#2 the lion roars

PART 1 – LIQUID PEACE

 

PART 2 – PATIENT PAPER 

The police station was accommodated in an old building, a school from the 19th century.

It took me three hours to get anywhere near Benny.

They had me fill out seven forms, both sides, all identical. The policeman in charge ripped two forms apart, and I had to start again. “Hand slipped.” His comment slapped my ears. This was nothing but mile high harassment. I knew it. The police man knew it, and I tried not to get too angry.

Then they had me write down what happened from the phone call on, till now.

Time delaying tactics. Maybe they searched and bugged my apartment right about now. They must have turned Benny’s upside down already.

 I tried to remember, if there was anything suspicious in my flat, something that could get me in jail.

Nothing to hide…

No political literature, beside what was permitted and encouraged. Some family photos, but I’m the only one left alive, so no danger on that end. No newspapers or magazines, no radio – lucky me. Only cigarettes, coffee and booze and dirty laundry.

Still, they told me to wait.

On the other side of the dirty window, the sky caught fire on the margins. The sun would be up in less then half an hour. Exhaustion burned under my eyelids, like sand. I attempted to close them, it stung like salt on an open wound. I feared my eyelids wouldn’t go all the way down. I pushed with with my fingertips against them. The burn eased a tiny bit, only to be replaced by headache. Benny mattered now most. As soon as I opened them, the artificial light made them water. I had to focus on Benny.

 From somewhere outside, they dragged Benny in, hands cuffed behind his back. He stumbled forward, face pale and bright and full with terror and relief. He was scared to death. From the stains on his clothes, I could tell he had wet his pants.

This was, what a man on death row looks like. Nausea greeted me. God! I had to push that thought out of my head fast.

At first glance there seemed nothing wrong with him, only a split lip. His wet hair stuck to his sweaty forehead. I was three feet away from him. I could reach out, but I knew better than that.

The uniform holding  his left elbow grunted. “He fell all by himself. Clumsy, like a child.” The other man at his right and the policeman, I gave my forms to, laughed. The smell of ethanol and urine hit me. It was a roaring filthy laugh, a laugh you laugh at a salt covered foaming snail, or at a cringing burning spider.

The man on his left pulled a lighter out of his pocket. Benny whined and jerked back as far as he could. I had to swallow hard, clench my teeth, so no reaction escaped me. The uniform at his right lifted his right elbow, forcing him down. His face got close enough to the flame that he could have breathed it out. He did nothing. He just trembled.

Behind me, the slick voice from the telephone harrumphed. The man put away his lighter, and the other uniforms straightened up. Everything went silent.

“So you are friends with Jews and Hungarians, doctor?” That man… The hair on my neck stood on end. Benny’s face fell, he winced. Slowly, I turned around. “Uncuff.” His voice is barely audible, but the uniforms obeyed. Clicks and a sigh could only mean, Benny was free now.

The man leaned with his elbow over a filing cabinet, posture most casual. He was bigger than me, wiry stature. He had broad forehead, a long crooked nose, broken once but healed well and bushy brows. His dark eyes seemed to sparkle with mischief.

From the edge of his lips hung a lit cigarette. Ash clung to the paper. His clothes were elegant, no uniform, coat and shoes handmade. He blew smoke through his nostrils right into my face. I didn’t breathe. Manicured hands, I noticed. Nothing cheap about this man, this was no foot soldier. This was someone, a big someone. This was an intelligent, well educated high ranking officer. He smiled a peaceable smile, perfect teeth hid behind his lips.

This man could only mean trouble.

I steadied my voice. “Only this one.” What a stupid thing to say! My head was empty, there was nothing witty to say.

“Your boss says, you are a capable man. A bit soft, but capable nevertheless. We’ll see about that.” He looks at his manicured nails with interest.

He noded a tiny bit, and the men shoved Benny into my back. I felt him bump into me, grab for my jacket and going down unto his knees.

The man chuckled and waved a hand. “So collect your garbage and go.”

med bay snippets # 3

Is this one of your stupid jokes, Rains? What do you mean with, “we lost Decker”? He’s hooked to E-bed 2, in quarantine, thanks to you. Care to elaborate? He raises an eyebrow.  I know the doc doesn’t approve that I ripped off the seal. The best I could do, to trigger the alarm.

I shake my head, but plunk down into the seat, the doctor offers me. He pushes a cup of fresh coffee over to me, and glances down his watch. I know perfectly well, that what I’m about to say is… It sounds batshit crazy, even to me.

Look doc, I’m… I don’t know. I – I just – I have to tell someone. Makes me feel less…

Disoriented? Distressed? The doctor offers. I know he means to be helpful. But…

This is a report. I keep telling myself. I have to warn everybody. Doc Wellington has to keep his cake-hole shut. I tell him, before I let the Captain in on this… Whatever this is.

I can’t meet his gaze. Those eyes,  they accuse, they see through, they strip you bare.

I nod and take a sip from the freshly brewed hot dark liquid. My mouth burns…  This is a report. I will burn less, when I talk. I need to get this out of my system.

You know, some hours ago… Down on Chimon, when Decker knocked himself out, and I had to haul his heavy ass back? 

The doctor nods.

I… I think something happened to Decker. Uh, he said some very weird things… Some, uh, really disturbing stuff… I don’t think he was himself.

The man sitting opposite to me,  fixes me with his blazing eyes. Even though I’m not looking at him, I feel two hot spots resting on my cheeks.  As if two wasps had decided to sting me simultaneously.  Just freaks me out. He harrumphs politely, and  folds his fingers into a praying gesture.

Well, delirium is a very strange mental state. He begins explaining, but this is bullshit. But this is not that easy. It can spook anyone. I don’t like how he shrugs. There are documented cases, where people started speaking tongues, even ancient greek or latin… His patronizing smile turns my guts.  And it was a most stressful situation. Acidic taste seeps on my tongue, and I force my stomach back down. I shake my head.

THIS IS NOT WHAT I MEAN!  Not at all. I nearly left him on the surface! I have his full attention now, he leans forward.  I nearly left him on the surface, because he freaked me out. 

The solar storm damaged the engines of the landing pod, upon reentry.  And the com.  I have to admit, the landing was less than optimal, and it’s my fault, that Decker got nearly killed on spot. He kind of rescued me, and got his oxygen tank damaged. 

My hands leave the cup alone and I raise them, palms up. Shrugging palms.

First everything was normal. Well, as normal as being stranded in a volcanic eruption zone on an unstable planet. Normal apeshit crazy stuff.  The man in front of me scoffs.  A sense of humor is always a good sign. That’s what they tell you in the military. A residual coping mechanism, when everything else is beyond repair.

Got him into the nearest pick-up area.  That was when his oxygen got down into the red zone. He said that he won’t survive this, that the drugs aren’t working properly, that something was wrong.  Then… I swallow.  

Then, uh… He screamed! He screamed for three minutes straight. It was, it was , uh nauseating. It must have hurt so badly. He screamed for his mother… I – I-  Oh, God…

Take your time… It must have been hard to listen to a man dying. 

I cannot hold back, to my surprise – I sob.

Uh, he said that he is going to enjoy this. And that I will enjoy this too. He’d make me…

med bay snippets #2

The soft purring of the monitoring alarm on my watch wakes me, by vibrating. I’m up…

I tell the watch and it recognizes my voice. The command kills the alarm.

Sleeping at the med bay is seldom a good idea, and sleeping at a working station – uh, table – is downright irresponsible. I rub my face into some kind of wakefulness and wish I could rub my back into a painless state.

I wish I would have slept in one of the E-beds, but shake my head at the idea. The beds are semi-autonomous, so they can keep an exhausted man in stasis, till he gets all the tiredness out of his system. No matter how long that may take.

In case you are the ship’s doctor, this is a very bad idea. They tell you that in doctor’s school. Don’t get high on E-beds pain or sleep medication. I guess some of my colleagues must have tried, during their long trips to the Kepler System.

I have Lieutenant Decker in one. The screen above his E-bed flashes red.

Let’s check you then. 

I download the most recent parameters the bed has measured to my watch. I throw out my thumb and index above its display to activate the tablet function. Blood pressure: 100 to 80. Good, pulse: 110. Almost okay. Oxygen saturation: 85%. Not okay… Breathing frequency dwindling under 10. Bad. I shake my wrist to retract the tablet. The antidote is wearing off.

Load E-bed 2 with enough Naloxone. Doctor Oscar Welligton, authorization 00.01, code 672779-0.

The unconscious man in front of me looks like he just hopped from the grim reapers grasp, with a nearly translucent, pale skin.

What a disappointment… I do not recall Decker to be a genius, or  even smart. The flashing red on the E-bed monitor stops. His breathing improves visibly, oxygen saturation climbs above 90%. That’s the spirit, Lieutenant. 

This bloke finds the most pleasant way to go. Fearless, without the hunger for oxygen, without the hunger for life. I make a mental note to stock every suit – at least mine – with enough morphine to kill an elephant. This is a manageable last resort.

It is a stroke of genius to use morphine to save himself from asphyxiation. The question remains, if he’s left with cerebral damage. No one knows how long he was cold out, or even breathing… After all, Rains is not to be trusted with precise observation about his colleagues. If I recall correctly, he even broke Decker’s nose in a brawl a month ago.

How’s the lieutenant? 

The captain’s voice rings through the med bay. The com is in override mode on my watch.

Barely alive. I answer. That’s that.

Any permanent damages? 

Can’t tell… Sleeping beauty has to wake up on his own. The morphine still has  about two hours to the  pharmacological half-life. Ask me again in two hours. 

The Captain seems satisfied, and the com dies down. I pull the footage from Decker’s and Rains’ suits.

#1 – the lion roars

PART 1  - LIQUID PEACE
Part 2 - PATIENT PAPER

The gutter dripped and the rain drops rapped hard on the kitchen window. My eyes were already open. The bedsheets felt cold and damp. The shutters in the living room rattled with the wind gusts.  I’ve been staring at the dark ceiling for nearly three hours. I sat up. Sleep was busy somewhere else.

Another rotten night.

My mind was stuck in ruminating mode. There was no point in trying to sleep. Heavy rainstorm washed over the town. So thirsty… I tried to breathe. The merry-go-round in my head kept me replaying the last two weeks, pining me to decisions, yanking me back and forth between faces and screams and tears. Decisions that were not my wisest… 

Wasn’t enough. 

I thought of the woman with begging eyes. She came into the ER, during my shift. She had fever, and severe abdominal pain. I guessed her secret right away. Her deep ocean green eyes betrayed her, I could read in them. Everyone could…  That she had attempted  abortion. Bleeding and in pain, she got down on her knees and pleaded. Immediately I got her a bed, and called a trustworthy gynecologist I knew. I trusted him to keep his mouth shut. I trusted that a human life was more important to him than law.

I was wrong.

Nevertheless, I started her on antibiotics and enough painkillers. I refused to make a blood test. If it was positive, she’d go to jail. Maybe she would anyway… If she’d survive, that is… I had Rose, the head nurse, look after her.

I cannot just watch and wait for her to die, that’s what I told her, and that’s what I told the head medic.

He stopped all medication. That bigoted windbag stopped ALL of her medication and I got sent home for a month. Rose tried to calm me down, but by God – I… I.

The oxygen left the room. Two days ago, Rose called. The woman with the begging eyes died. My skin felt dry and hot, like a heat blanket over a snowman.

There was this nagging icy feeling wrenching my guts, that I just couldn’t shrug off. I could use some peace for once – some sleep, or unconsciousness. I could use some liquid peace… I thought of the empty liquor bottles lined up in the kitchen. Vodka was sometimes your only friend. It was a reliable friend. Brushing over my  burning face, my forehead was sticky with sweat.

The phone rang. The sinking feeling sank deeper.

I got up. The cold floor burned  under my soles. I went to the hallway to pick it up, but my hand hovered above it.

Important? Work? Catastrophe? Which is it?

I asked myself. It did nothing to buffer the leaden dread sitting on my chest.

I grabbed the phone. “‘llo?”

“Comrade Hoia?” The stern voice on the end of the line felt like a brick wall I was about to smack into.

“Yes,” I swallowed. ”Who is this?” The man didn’t answer. Statics filled my head. This was a catastrophe, I decided. I heard a pen scratch on paper.

“I’ve got a young man here, a Hungarian Jew. He says, he knows you, comrade.”

Benny… What have you done this time?

Was this police or worse? Securitate? “His name is Benjamin Ekes,” yawned the man.

“Yes.” I croaked. “I know him.” My throat was stinging, I couldn’t suppress a cough. I heard a faint echo of myself coughing. They were recording the call. Securitate it was. My heart knotted.

A big drink, I rubbed my lips, a whole bottle.

“Do you, comrade Hoia?” He paused amused. “Then come and pick him up. Police station.” The man hung up.

“On my way.” I said, listening to the disconnected tone in the line. With every heartbeat it grew louder and louder. I stood in the darkness.

Pull yourself together.

I needed to get going. Who knows what they did to Benny. I grabbed some clothes and spares for Benny, gauze and disinfectant. On a second thought, I called the ER at the polyclinic I work, and had Rose on the phone. At least, some silver lining. She understood immediately what was going on. She said, she’d  had the scrubs ready, if needed. God bless good old Rose, the smartest nurse I ever worked with.

Two minutes later I was on the deserted main road, heading downtown. The rain came down in curtains. My car seemed to be the only one in the whole wide world. I lit a cigarette, and thought of all the peaceful people who could actually sleep. In their beds.

Benny needed me.

And I? I needed a drink, and a month worth of sleep.

 

How to brighten Mr. Burke up

The tiger folded his paws, cuffs slipping, showing monograms on his golden cufflinks. It made him look more elegant and sophisticated, then before. Peterson shuddered. The bureau was huge, bigger than his house. The white marble topped table was impressive, his boss enthroning the big black leather chair looked like a king holding court. And he sat on a wooden chair in front of a man, who could snap him in two, probably only with the power in his left pinky… His tail twitched nervous, licking his lips didn’t help. Peterson tried to hide in his hide, as he felt his boss’ eyes burning into his skull.

“Peterson. Do you think, this impresses me?” The tiger snorted and laid his ears back. His golden eyes pierced the weasel sitting in front of his desk. “Do you think this is ENOUGH?” The growl in his voice made the glass of the windows tremble.

“…No? Sir.” The weasel trembled too, eying the door. “Sir? May I suggest Chef Michaels prepares you an early lunch?” Peterson tried to save himself from his boss’ rage. He knew he fucked up, and the numbers were more than awful. But that didn’t mean, that he had to die for them. Hopefully… The tiger popped all claws on his left paw, and tapped the marble tabletop impatiently. He leaned back in his office chair.

“This will not suffice, Peterson. I’m disappointed with your performance.” The claws pierced the paper stack Peterson just brought with him. With a careless gesture he swept the stack to the floor. “Pick that up, Peterson.” The man swallowed audible.”You know what? Leave it. You reek like a dead dog. Have you been rolling in dead dog?”

“Uh, uh… nyes?” The man hurried to get to the door, and to close it as fast as he could behind himself. The tiger smiled an amused smile and punched a button on his intercom. “Sally, darling, please do come in, and brighten up my day.”

“Yes, Mr. Burke.” The female voice chirped through the line. The tiger got up and out of his navy blue blazer. The snow white shirt was fitting him perfectly. He loosed the golden silk tie and unbuttoned his collar. His right ear twitched. Sharp clacking sounds were approaching the door. “Ah, Sally! Please come in, come in.” He opened the door for her. Sally had both hands busy with holding and oversized bath brush, a pillow filled with catnip, and a box full of life mice. Mr Burke hugged her and lifted her from the ground. Sally thrashed a bit, then gave up, when hearing Mr. Burke’s purring.

“Sir? Mr Burke? You know that it isn’t professional, to have your toys brought to you, if you are upset,” she asked in his shoulder.

“Mhm,”he purred.

“The CEO of such a company, worth multimillion dollars in arms business, is supposed to be awe-inspiring, terrifying and mighty impressive.” She lessoned him. “Shall I have Chef Michaels prepare lunch?” He shook his head and let her very gently touch the ground. “Ready?” She wiggled the pillow a bit before she threw it into the furthest corner of the bureau.

 

the experiment

content warning

I got you a blanket, so you won’t freeze.“ Steve smiles and hands Tom a grey woolen cover.

Already half undressed, Tom furrows his brows. He stops mid motion, shoe laces around his fingers. „It looks scratchy. I’m hungry, and it’s freezing.“ He looks at Steve’s face and stops again, irked. „Don’t stare like that!

Like what?

Like I was a piece of cherry pie. Stop that. It’s awkward.

The blanket flies to the autopsy table. „I just can’t please you, huh?“ Steve smirks. „When did you eat the last time?

Six hours ago. As you told me to. I’m hungry. When this is done, you owe me! Not only dinners and lunches and lots of roast beef! And steak. You owe me big time.“ He throws his left shoe to the door. „And roast potatoes. Oh, and pizza. See? Goosepimply. All over. God! Tell me, everything’s going to be okay.

It’s going to be okay.

Everything prepared?“ Tom swings himself onto the autopsy table uneasy. Looking around in the morgue increases his doubt by the second. Steve can’t let him doubt the experiment. He is the most important subject to this experiment. He is the only subject.

The table seems to be really cold, he shivers slightly and folds his hands over his bare chest. Suddenly his gesture seems inappropriate to himself and he changes posture, forcing his hands down.

Steve pats his shoulder. „No need to be nervous. You remember everything?

Yeah… Why did I let you talk me into this? Tell me again. When did I say yes to this?

Hey! Are you going to be a sissy about this? We are pioneers. Our names will go down in history! We’re gonna be famous! Stars!

It didn’t help. Tom looks unconvinced. „Relax buddy, I checked the defibrillator twice. We talked about this, remember? I got you a doctor on stand by. Decker is just a door away, waiting for my call. He’s on duty today.

Who? Decker? You mean dickweed Decker? Are you kidding me?“ Tom sits up, all tense pulling the ECG electrodes off of his chest. He starts shaking his head in disbelief. „Are we talking about your medical backup? I mean, MY backup? Please Steve, say you are joking.

Steve rolls his eyes. „Why? He IS a doctor.

„-And an idiot! He wouldn’t find my heart, even if it crawled out of my chest and tried to bite him! Steve, I got a bad feeling.“ Tom’s pleading eyes lock on Steve’s face just for a moment too long. He can’t stand the look and turns away.

“Don’t say, you are backing out on me. Not now, Tom! Not now!” The words get pushed through gritting teeth. They dissolve into the strained silence around them. 

“Are you listening to yourself? Do you know, what you demand from me?” Tom buries his face in his hands. “You ask me to die!”

“No. Technically not!” Steve nods. “Okay. Okay! I know. I know. Sorry, sometimes I am a real jerk,”he pauses. He has to very careful now. His only test subject is about to scrub everything. Everything he worked so hard for, all the money he bribed Dickweed with, for nothing? Actually, it isn’t necessary… For a moment he ponders, he could force Tom into this, all he needs is chloroform, or laughing gas, and a  plastic bag… When the crunch comes, he’ll knock Tom out, and do what is needed to be done. It would be way better though, if he does it voluntarily. “You will not die. I promise! It’s only coma. We discussed this, remember?” He throws a look at Tom. He sighs with relief, he caught him, and now he just reels him in. “Don’t you think I’m nervous too? Nothing will go wrong. People lived through these things.” He swipes  his hand above the monitors,”and now we have the chance to prove the existence of the soul, and it’s capability to detach from the physical body.” Tom looks at his toes, and nods slowly. “Now lets get you some iv accesses, and the dream juice flowing.”

Steve knows better, than to look at his best friend. The crushing trick his face makes, the hurt radiating from his eyes, the disappointment, Steve isn’t able to take that in. He knows it. He needs to focus, this is too important to be tainted with mixed feelings.

Tom surrenders, with a soft, barely audible sigh. 

Fenrir

„Fenrir, jam all outgoing signals and patch that in.” The message started with the familiar Strix United jingle and the main screen on the bridge went blue. „No! Kill the video feed, show me the transcript!” Captain Rains’ orders overwrote the AI’s standard routines, and it did as it was told. The message projected unto the analysis screen. It started scrolling down as he read it. „Ha!” He slapped the console in a fit of joy. „Got you, Wong.” The AI encrypted the message again and took it from the screen. The captain leaned back in his seat and was very much pleased with what was coming. He closed his eyes and started thinking of all the gruesome details of his revenge. A smile slowly sprawled over his face, like the legs of a bird spider.

„Fenrir, start recording the signals broadcasted on the designated frequencies. Bounce Paine out of his bunk, and make me coffee.” Rains yawned and ruffled his blonde hair. He started thinking that he’d never get the chance to redeem himself. “Revoke all level B 20 permissions for Brack’s ID. Remove his login-history and cancel his pending requests. I won’t have him butting in.”

„Yes, sir,” the AI answered in a flat tone. The coffee machine came to life snorting and gargling like a choking man.

Minutes later a tall shadow, Lieutenant Paine, appeared in the doorway bubbling drunken zombie words. „Sowhyamupnwhuusresponsble.” Rains pointed to the brewing machine. „Thankgd,” he shuffled towards the coffee, arms stretched out to welcome the dark burnt scent.

„I’m bored.” Rains said, as if to himself. Paine turned around eyeballing his captain. „Aren’t you sick of being stuck out here, freezing your dick off? Wanna go for a hunt instead?” That got his attention, he forgot his curled fingers in front of the full coffee can.

„Where’s the hook?” Paine swallowed, they were Sleipnir’s emergency backup, but he was definitely interested. The captain behaved quite unusual, for the first time in six months, he seemed genuinely happy about something. Never a good sign. He inched his way towards the captain’s seat. Being forced to tail Sleipnir for half a year has been agonizingly boring, he admitted. For the captain it must have been hell, shadowing and monitoring the man who destroyed his life. This was going to be fun.

„No hooks,” Rains smirked,„and no survivors…”

Only hours later, just before virtual sunrise on Fenrir, a distress signal reached the ship, triggering the alarm.

„This is Sleipnir. Fenrir, do you copy? This is an emergency!” The male voice came in over all frequencies. Rains punched a button and the alarm died.

*

It was dark and cold on the damaged Sleipnir. The AI on the ship scanned the nearest area, tracing every course it would be able to take. It did its best to power the life supporting systems. Both of its humans were safe for now. It calculated the possible surviving ratios and decided not to show the results to its captain. „They are receiving the message,” it said instead.

Captain Wong bowed his head, buried his face in his palms. This was the worst possible thing to happen.

„Doctor Wellington’s vitals are stable. No signs of internal hemorrhage.” The AI scanned for the other AI in the vicinity. It sat on the northern hemisphere of Vesta, waiting for orders. It would take two hours to get to its current location.

Wong coughed slightly, with the smoke filtering through the ventilation. At least none of them was dying. Yet. „C’mon!” He waited.”Mayday! We had a critical accident!” No answer. Where was the cavalry? Wong’s stomach froze to a hard icy ball. “We need emergency evac! ASAP!” He looked at the unconscious doctor. He hit his head pretty hard. “Our oxygen will last for three hours. Fenrir! DO YOU COPY?” The com remained silent. The instruments showed, that the transmission has been received. “FENRIR! Dammit!”

*

Captain Rains sat alone in the dawn of the bridge, feet on the com console. He grinned and folded his fingers. „What will you do now, Wong?” He chuckled softly. Behind him, a door slid open and closed. He felt someone, most likely Paine, move through the darkness. That was a man to his taste, a bad soldier but a good mercenary. Rains harrumphed and manned the mic.

„Fenrir here. That’s a no-can-do. Make yourselves comfy, cause that’s where you’re gonna stay.” Fenrir’s AI showed a simulation of Sleipnir’s position on the main screen. „We meet again, Wong.”

A gasp filled the air and the aether. „Rains? Is that YOU?!”

“Captain!” Brack shouted from wherever he was running towards the bridge. “Captain! Emergency!” His thumping feet nearly reached the doors. “Captain!” With a whoomph he seemed to collide with it. Rains rolled his eyes and sighed. The door skid open and a big hunched over shadow panted in the doorway.

„This is a distress signal. DAMMIT! MOVE YOUR ASSES OVER HERE!” Wong screamed.

„What did I tell you about second encounters?” Rains asked casually into the mic. Over his left shoulder Paine’s hand held out a cup of steaming coffee.

„Donno, I wasn’t listening. I was busy humping your mom!” Wong barked. The low growl in his voice couldn’t hide his despair.

„This is payback.” Rains shook his head. He took the cup and was surprised it was one of Paine’s.

„Captain, why are we ignoring emergency calls?” Brack breathed horrified.

„Stop pissing.” Rains stared into Brack’s confused face. Scans showed the vital damage to Sleipnir. Paine poked a finger at the analysis screen. „That’s their problem!“