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.
PART 1 - LIQUID PEACE
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…
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.
- “Now that’s afterlife,” the ferryman pointed out amused with his clicking teeth, “you really are a busy body.”
- I feel like I should say something clever, or sassy, but I am cold and need my clothes back. Please?
- My right formed a pretended gun and fired: BANG, BANG – was I surprised when I hit the target…
- “What’s the matter sweetheart, never taken a shortcut before?”
- “I’m on the highway to hell,” I blared on performing CPR.
- My daughter Emily loves pancakes with chocolate chips and bananas, but this Emily at the table is all wrong, and she won’t let me go.
- “Not that you could ever use it, but that’s the secret of creation,” Lucifer nudged gently the leaves of the potted daisies.
- “I’ve been thinking,” she cut the foxglove flowers into fine stripes and put them into the teapot, “maybe you need a long nice holiday, darling.”
- “That ridiculous excuse of a human being was the god of locks,” Paine shook his head in disbelief.
- “Now everybody, repeat,” I stood at the speaker’s desk, pausing for effect, “I AM FREE!
- “Yeah, I’d go for a big, hairy ‘n all teeth sidekick,” Lev wrung his fist with a fit of elation, as the goblin nodded approvingly.
-producing a huge slobbery pug in the size of a pony…
- I heard him snicker over his “Ladies first”, so I threw a chair at his face, that’ll teach him.
- “Why are you shooting at me?”
- I shared a bunk with a quiet man, a huge afro-american cyborg, with the average of ten words and two facial expression a week.
- The tall shadow of Lieutenant Rizzo appeared in the doorway, bubbling drunken zombie words, „sowhyamupnwhuusresponsble?”
- I lowered the stethoscope and the heavy door swung open.
- The pink tutu bounced up and down as the little girl ran away from my yard, screaming for her mommy.
- “Less talking, more running,” Ivanov grunted, cranking the control lever on the emergency life support system.
- Adam smirked, floored the gas pedal, and the car skid around the corner.
- The tiger yawned, looked at me pitifully, folded his paws and studied my CV, not trying to hide his boredom.
- Sleipnir dipped over the event horizon, and started broadcasting “I got you Babe” over all emergency channels.
- “Fuck off, grasshopper,” the monks sucked his teeth and let his arrow fly.
- “Don’t know, whose dream is this anyway,” the monkey asked, “I’m bored already!”
“Sorry,” I managed a confused face, “I don’t speak bullshit.”
- The Yellow Emperor glanced into the mirror and smirked, taking over the realm of humans was easier than he thought. “All that Selfie-business is playing nicely into his hands.”
The love of my life is fickle.
With every move, with every turn, time brings me further away from my love, but its sweet image nearer to my heart.
It trickles between my fingers, running away.
A hologram of happiness, desire and pain. A flickering glimpse onto something like inner peace, a delusion pinched from a clouded dream.
There is that tiny space, where I belong.
Only a spec on the map of reality.
In those nights and dawns, spent in the silence of that milky yellowish grey of the sky, my love becomes more vivid than anything around me. Or anything inside me…
I keep imagining that I’m on a space station in orbit, and look down on that filthy place I call home. A wonderful and terrifying place I origin from. Itself equally an enigma, truthfully lied, made up and real, beautiful and ugly.
I am ashamed and proud. Even that contradiction is heartfelt and true to me. Equally me, equally not me…
I’ll be more precise.
The feeling they give me, makes me stop. Suddenly I have not enough breath in my lungs and my feet stretch to touch the core of the planet. A weird kind of buzzing fills the space between my ears…
I’ve been here before, haven’t I?
And then I’m empty. It is some kind of blankness. A cold sensation in my stomach. I start to doubt that I’m hermetically locked into my skin. For a moment I’m sure there is a hole somewhere. Something ripped through me, and I didn’t notice. I’m leaking. Or maybe the world is seeping into me. I know it will squeeze me into my every pore, into every wrinkle of my being, pushing me to the outer rim of what uses to me be…
At least, I think it is some kind of falling sensation. A random plummeting to the ground. Downward sucking notion, but without the wet kissing thud at the end. Without hitting any surfaces, without the crashing and breaking, without the impact… Just falling.
In those moment – I have hope. Hope to find my purpose, my place in the world I inhabit. The hunch I need to grasp the meaning behind all this…being-human thing. It is almost a fully formed thought, a nearly recognized feeling.
I have been here before, haven’t I?
Isn’t it ironic? I can’t seem to realize it…
Why is it, that suddenly everything starts to gravitate towards the edge?
Those jagged edges of the you-shaped hole chew away my reality.
I let my fingers, thoughts and heart brush over it. Just to be sure, it is there. I’m not imagining it. Not imagining you.
Sharp. I cut myself remembering you. Missing you… Returning to the same spot. Hurting again.
Sometimes it’s a cracking sound, sometimes a wet ripping… Sometimes the gut twisting silence I’m forced to listen to.
And then… What a relief! There you are! Behind my eyelids. You move. Somewhere. Somewhere far away. You stir. The perfume of your skin, your lips and that wicked happy-to-deadly smile flash back, blind me. Freeze me. Stop me. Stop my time. That smile…
Why is it, that your pull influences my days and nights, my every dusk and dawn?
Why can’t I sleep? Not in our bed, only cramped on the sofa or at the dining table?
The emptiness beside me rips me into waking. Drags me back into the cold and the light… Another day…
Why is it, that I dream of the touch of your fingertips? That I phantasize your movements, next to me, under the sheets… Your breathing… Why can’t it be otherwise? My life… Only without you.
Your sweet humming and singing keeps me company. In my head, your voice comments and laughs, as if amused; points out the little details you used to notice…
Why must I …
Why can’t I move on?