National Novel Writing Month – Brandished Destiny – Part 7

Back on proper numbering and hopefully back on track with posting pieces.  Things get a little shaky here.  Fern’s talk with Rynun did not go well and the hint of a war that her niece might be central to has her very much out of sorts.

CHAPTER 4

Once we arrived and parked, Sinera quickly hurried up to her desk and began sorting through mail and messages. I went to sulk in my office. I hadn’t worked off my mad completely, so it was a good idea to waste some time in a snit, then pull myself back together. The old windup clock on the window shelf ticked away as I pulled the bottle from the torn inner coat pocket and dropped it with a touch of malice into the bottom drawer and kicked it shut. I took off the trench coat and hung it on the coat tree behind my desk and between the windows. As I turned toward my desk I was already trying to fit pieces together. Fifteen minutes later I wasn’t pulling my hair out in frustration just yet, I was just in a real bitchy mood.

I wanted answers now, and lord knows they weren’t going to come to me in the mood I was in. So, since today seemed to be all about reminiscing, I walked back out to the PT cruiser, got in and started it up, then went up into Dayning to visit Zhirk.

His family was all gone excepting his mom, who had been transformed into a fairy when the Change had reached Halifax. His sister died in the riots, and his dad a while after that. Fawn and I had chipped in money to have his remains buried next to his dad and sister in the back yard of their old house. It had been cared for while Zhirk was alive, but after three years of neglect it had started looking worse for wear. The grey-green color had faded to a flat sort of grey-brown, and the weeds had conquered the formerly manicured lawn around the house. The windows were still intact, but someone had kicked in the back door. I hoped they didn’t do too much damage to the place.

Fawn and I had gotten a small token from the place to remember him by after the remains had been interred. The Fairy that was his mom flitted in the back yard. Maybe at some level she did know, and mourned. The day was becoming way to melancholy. I wanted something to divert me out of this bad mood, only Fawn was still at work, and my relationship with Larry had changed after Fawn had gone with me while pregnant with Zhira. We still talked when I came over, but usually it was Fawn that invited me, not Larry. He held a grudge, and I understood it. He and Fawn managed to save their marriage through a buttload of hard work, but that work didn’t include forgiving me.

I was mostly okay with that. I had a lot of guilt over everything that happened, and Larry’s anger with me felt like I deserved it. I probably should have gone and talked to someone about it, but I chose to bury myself in work to avoid thinking about it. It worked for the most part, and I managed to finally make peace with all that happened. The big change was Zhira. Believe me, a child’s innocence can really lift weight off your shoulders. There’s just something about watching a child grow and explore, especially the really early years. They’re a bundle of innocent curiosity.

I pushed open the remains of the back door and stepped inside. The basement was poured concrete walls and floor with a couple windows set just above ground to let light in. A pair of child-sized bicycles lay next to the door, their spokes stomped out and bent. A larger adult pair were no longer here. Toward the far left wall was the gas heater, and a dust-caked white washer and dryer. A couple steel posts held up the floor. I walked ahead to the stairs up to the kitchen. Four steps up, a left turn on the landing and six steps more place me next to the refrigerator in the kitchen. The living room was just beyond, and to my left was another set of stairs that went up to the bedrooms and the single bathroom. Yeah, I’d been here before.

Once to help Zhirk pick up some clothes and things for obscuring ritual, and then here to talk with him on occasion and try to keep the place looking lived in. Right now there was a pile of towels from the bathroom in the living room, along with a sleeping bag and a couple of opened cans. Normally I’d be looking for the squatter, but I just didn’t have the urge to do anything other than take a short tour of the rooms, and walk back down the basement and go out to where the graves were.

The headstones were still there. A bit of painted graffiti was on each one. The fluorescent yellow on the dark basalt made my stomach turn over. I took a deep breath and let it go. Zhirk wasn’t here any more, nor were his family. All that was here were bits of carved rock for others to remember them. Zhirk would have told me to leave be and concentrate on what really was bothering me, which was the war. There had to be some way to figure out what Rynun had meant and maybe stop it before it starts. Yeah, I bought in. I believed Rynun that something bad was going to happen soon. I just couldn’t not brood about it because he’d intimated that Fawn was in the middle of it too, which meant Larry and Zhira would be affected. Which would then affect me on a deeply personal level.

Yeah, we’re all selfish motivations. And selfish or not, war doesn’t just affect one family. It could very well affect all of Nova Scotia, or all of Canada. I didn’t know the scope, what it was about, or really anything, and I had no place to start, and that frustration got me out here, visiting ghosts that couldn’t do anything but listen to a short ginger girl complain about all the crap she doesn’t know. Sometimes it’d be nice to have something other than a one way conversation, but I’m not a spirit medium, I can’t talk to ghosts, and vice-versa. Even with all this Magick in me, that is one of many things I can’t do.

As much as I wish Magick was a cure-all, it’s not. Magick is good for brute-forcing solutions, and rituals can do detail but they take effort and a lot of control to do right. Magick at times has its own agenda, and when you’re part of it, life gets interesting. The worst part is not knowing if you’re falling into someone’s agenda even if you’re already hip deep. I stuck around and did pull some weeds, wiped the dust and mud off, and bade them fare well until the next time. The trip home was about the same as the trip out; melancholy with a bit of simmering resentment at the absolute lack of information.

I got back just around sundown, Sinera had already left for the evening as did most of the other businesses on the floor. That gave me the quiet I wanted. Was I obsessing over what Rynun said? You bet I was. It may be hubris, but the hint that Fawn and I were in the middle of something like a war made me wonder at what I could do before fertilizer hit rotating air mover.I think I worried it to the bone and gnawed all the way through trying to understand why. And no, I normally don’t get obsessive like this. At some level I think I understood that I was placing way to much into one cryptic statement, but I couldn’t let it go. TO get back to the situation at hand, as I was about to fall asleep at my desk, I realized that I did have one person I knew that might find answers. The question was, would Larry actually be willing to help?

The only way to find out was get up the next morning and drive over to Fawn and Larry’s and ask. It took some self-coaxing to get me moving that direction, but move I did, and twenty minutes later I was in front of Fawn and Larry’s. Their house had a sense of stoic cheer, which fit both of them. Making a marriage work takes a willingness to keep at it during bad times. It’s too easy to go elsewhere and look for new and exciting partners. Neither of them ever did. I envied them that steadfast commitment. But it wasn’t commitment I wanted. Answers were more important. Answers, and telling Fawn. She needed to know, and so did Larry.

The first person to greet me was, naturally enough, Zhira. “Antie Fernie!” She squealed in delight and tottered towards me on unsteady but excitedly animated legs. I swept her up in a big hug as she reached me and we shared happy giggles. Fawn walked out of the front door. She was in blue jeans with a plain formerly white sweat shirt that had seen enough use to turn a faded ivory. Larry was right behind Fawn and dressed like her in blue jeans, but he had a light blue denim shirt. I put Zhira down and gave my sister a hug. Larry stayed a few steps back and have our moment together.

Finishing our hug, we all walked back into the house. I went over and sat at the circular table near the kitchen while Fawn got Zhira a glass of water, and she and Larry grabbed beer. I took a water myself. Both Fawn and Larry sat down opposite me. They knew something was up. I always called when I was coming over. I didn’t so this time.

So Fern” Fawn said as she looked over her shoulder at Zhira who had set her glass down and was on her hands and knees in front of their St. Bernard, Karl. The dog was down in front of Zhira, front feet splayed out, butt in the air. He took off like a puppy and banged through the screen door into the back yard. Zhira was toddling right after him, laughing all the way. She turned back to me after the circus had gone outside. “What has got you so wound up? You usually call when you come over.”

I looked over to Larry. “I need some help in figuring out what Rynun said when I met him at the cabin yesterday.” I told them of his cryptic statement about me and Fawn and the war. Larry’s face darkened as I finished the short talk while Fawn split her attention between Larry and I. I know Larry was about to explode all over me because of this, but he couldn’t blame me for it. Getting the word from Rynun made it a trusted source which meant arguing wasn’t going to change the truth. I gave them everything, including my trip to see Zhirk’s place.

So, you’ve been obsessing about what Rynun said, and driving yourself crazy looking for an answer before you have any information to figure an answer out from. Did I miss anything?”

No Larry, that’s about it. Though hearing you say that way stings a little.”

You should think about what you have and are trying to do, Fern. You’d have less problems.”

It was a not so subtle dig that I didn’t take care of business. We’d been at each other off and on depending on how much Fawn was a part of whatever was being discussed. This was obviously way too much for Larry to stay calm and rational. Fawn and Zhira were his life. Anything that might cause trouble was going to be met head-on and conquered either by wit or Magick. I felt for him. I did. After having to watch my sister nearly die twice from Preeclampsia during her pregnancy, I finally understood the helplessness of knowing that I had no ability to help, nothing but to watch, and pray, and stay by her side.

National Novel Writing Month – Brandished Destiny – part 2

Here’s the second part comprising the end of Chapter one.  It’s a lot of exposition and talking to oneself/scribe.  There’s also some explanation of the last book and what happened to Fern and Fawn at the compound.

 

Fire, water, earth, air. The four classical alchemical elements. I could lift and toss rocks up to the size of a bulldozer over two kilometers, create heat that could melt brick and cause the earth to glaze. I could form shapes from my imagination, just like the earlier ramp to divert Fawn’s attack away from me.

That brings me to the most interesting part. If we’re within a few meters of each other, our skills blend. Each of us is the power source for the other. We’re both huge Magick batteries.

We can do those Magickal things each other can do ourselves. Fawn can punch power at me; I can harden Magick around me. They’re not quite the same, but it is close in form. If we hold hands, we become one source that can do everything. We think the same, hear the same. Our powers become one all encompassing cauldron of power that is anything we deem it to be. It’s intoxicating, and scares the both of us all the way to our toenails.

Something that feels that good without any apparent limits is something to avoid. Magick is seductive enough on regular days. It’s why a number of potential wizards don’t live long enough to become wizards. They play with power and want more to play with because it’s like a heavy shot of your favorite method of getting high. Drunk on power is not just a metaphor. Knowing when you’re getting into that kind of power is what keeps you alive and sane. It made us paranoid. We did some research and had Larry help us out. We found nothing describing what was going on with us.

Larry is still hunting through whatever’s on the ‘net. And we live as quietly as we can with this power and try not to go too crazy with it all. Thankfully Zhira seems unaffected by it. She’s a normal active little girl with curly Ash blonde hair and the most intense violet eyes. Eyes like that usually presages Magickal ability, and with her parents, it’s kind of a given she’d be some kind of Magick wielder. Honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing it and dreading it at the same time.

Magick is has been the one big constant in my life since the craziness started happening with Hervald Thensome. I could definitely do without more crazy Magick. Which was why Fawn and I were practicing. You know the old saying of ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’? We knew it was going to happen. Magick’s got its own agenda, and like it or not anyone that practices Magick is part of that ongoing agenda. Anyways, reminiscing can get you really lost in your own head. However, sometimes the past comes knocking at your door. When it does, you really should avoid answering. I’d left the door wide open and the past came waltzing through in full party mode. What’s a girl going to do? Well, in this case, throw a party.

The Deep End – Chapter 1

This is the first chapter of a Glass Bottles series spin-off novel detailing how Dean Youngwood garnered his reputation as a Private detective Hero in Halifax/Dayning in Nova Scotia (New Scotland).

 

“Hey Dean, how did the test go?” Carny Weston walked over to Dean Youngwood, giving him a fist bump as a greeting, and falling in next to him as Dean walked to his car. The sidewalk was full of pedestrians in a hurry to get lunch. The noon whistle had blown only a minute before Dean had exited Precinct Four after taking his test. He’d come dressed for the weather, and Dean was thankful for his bit of preparation. The snow was coming down thick and slushy, sticking to anything it landed on. The weather station had promised wet snow and the station had got it right. Dean smiled at Carny a little wistfully, then stuck his hands in his jacket pockets.

“You know, I think I did pretty good. But…,” he paused and Carny’s face fell. His blonde beard was already festooned with fat flakes that were threatening to turn his whiskers into an ice sculpture. Carny’s blue and black checked hunting jacket was doing much better, the snow giving Carny the look of a man with a completely out of control dandruff problem. His shoulder length blonde hair combined with his beard made him look like a modern viking.

Dean by contrast to Carny’s appearance, had short black hair irregularly cut, a testament to ‘don’t do this at home in a mirror’, and dark brown eyes that almost looked black. He’d put on weight since his days in the Canadian Air Force, and had a slight gut. His swarthy skin made him look piratical, but in fact Dean was a full-blooded Cree. He wore a pair of thick blue denim work pants, and a matching blue coat to protect him from the cold. His last name, Youngwood, was his adopted parents name. He chose it for his own despite some protests by fellow Cree.

“Aw man that s…,” Carny started to say, but Dean pulled a piece of yellow paper out of his jean pocket and held it in front of Carny’s nose.

“I think they believed so too, because they gave me this little piece of paper.” Dean smiled as Carny whooped and enveloped him in a bear hug.

“Way to go, man! Way. To. Go!”

He ceased hollering as people around them stopped and stared at the exuberant spectacle. Carny put Dean back on the ground and the two continued their walk back towards Carny’s pickup. When they reached the battered green truck, Dean glanced at Carny as he opend the passenger door, “How about lunch on me? I passed the exam, I think we should celebrate at ‘The Shake Shack’. I haven’t had a artery-clogging hamburger and fries for a couple weeks.”

Carny laughed, and opened the driver’s door.

“Sounds great! how ’bout we stop by Tim Horton’s afterwards to get a coffee and donut as dessert?”

Dean grimaced. “I’d love to, but I think I’ll pass on that. I can only handle so much decadence.”

“Wimp.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“Dammit, it’s no fun if you don’t insult back. Where do you get off being agreeable?”

“The same place you get off by trying to start something.”

Carny laughed again and pressed the start button on the dashboard. The vehicle rumbled as the engine refused to start, then caught with a roar. Dean settled back in his seat as Carny wheeled the vehicle out of the parking lot, and into lunch-hour traffic.

While they slowly worked their way towards their destination, Carny asked Dean, “So where are you going to hang your shingle?”

Dean stared forward out the windshield, watching the fat flakes of snow descend on the barely moving vehicles.

“I was thinking up around Shannon Park. The area is old and poor, but a lot of decent sorts there. I could probably get by.”

Carny looked over at Dean as though Dean had sprouted a second head.

“You’re nuts, you know that? I understand wanting to help people, but first you gotta get on your own feet. Helping people is good, but if you can’t keep a roof over your head, how you gonna help someone else?”

Dean shrugged, then looked over at Carny.

“You blew big holes in that idea. Yeah, I’d like to help out that way. Lots of folks could use a little help to solve problems. Hell, maybe solving the problems would fix something.” He sighed and turned back to watch the traffic in front of them. “But you’re right. If I can’t keep a place open, I don’t do anyone any good.” He turned his head towards Carny again. “So what would be your plan?”

Carny shrugged, then replied, “What about joining a detective agency for a bit. Get a name, take care of a few cases. Hunt down a few bail jumpers. Whatever. An agency would get your feet wet for a regular paycheck, and getcha experience without worrying about rent.”

Dean listened quietly. The traffic began moving once more and the two lapsed into silence for the three minute drive over to ‘The Shake Shack’.

After thy sat down with their food, Dean took a bite out of his burger.

“You’re angling for me to work with your cousin, aren’t you?”

Carny smiled and took a hefty swig from the straw in his drink.

“See? That’s why you’re the detective. You can figure things out.”

Dean shook his head. “I know you think your cousin’s a good guy, Carny, but I’m not sure he’d be the best one to work for starting out. I mean, he’s a skip-tracer, not a private investigator.”

“That’s why he’s perfect to work with. He’s been there, done that, and can give you pointers into how to use your newfound legal license the best way possible. It’s a steady paycheck, and you help by getting bad people off the streets.”

“And I have to track down people who’s only crime was that they can’t pay on their car, and I have to take it away, and they lost their job because they can’t get to work to pay bills and help their families.”

Carny’s face drooped. Dean figured he’d tried to be helpful. Carny was always trying to look out for friends. He and Dean had spent a hitch in the Canadian Air Force for four years as mechanics working on the old F-22 Raptors that had survived The Change. They’d gotten along and worked well together. Then became in-laws when Carny had married Dean’s adopted sister Carol. In the three years they’d been married, Carol had two pairs of twins. The first pair were girls, and the second were boys.

Dean shook his head. then took another bite from the burger.

“Say I join your cousin, do you get anything for referring me?”

“No, I just thought he’d be a good place to start.”

Dean nodded. “Okay. I’ll go see him. No promises. I’m still not certain that I want to do this, but you’re right, I have to start somewhere.”

“Cool! I’ll drive you…”

“Ease up Carny, I’ll drive over this afternoon. You need to get back to work, Carol’s probably going crazy with four crazed munchkins running around.”

Carny set his drink down and grabbed at his potato wedges, stuffing two in his mouth. he chewed, then swallowed.

“She probably is, eh? Carol’s a great mom. Though she’s got a temper.”

Dean shrugged. “Well, you would too with four kids in diapers and needing constant supervision. I bet she’s exhausted by the time you get home.”

“Yeah, she is.” He turned to look at Dean. “Speaking of that, wanna come by and spend time with your nieces and nephews? I could take Carol out on the town, maybe a movie, eh?”

Dean chuckled. “Okay, okay. I get it. When do you want me by?”

“How about five-thirty? I’ll be home by then and you can show up. the kids’ll love seeing you.”

“Yeah, I bet. My back’s still sore from the last time they loved seeing me.”

Carny chuckled and finished off the last potato wedge.

“You adore them as much as they adore you. Admit it for once.”

Dean shrugged, smiling. “What, and ruin a streak?”

World’s Eye View – 26

I think we’re in trouble. The station wouldn’t ring like some bell from just a panel hit, would it? We might have lost something. Once the decision had been made, he called Roels and Salila over to man the cameras, and cycle through them to look for other possilbe damage. “I’ll help them button up”, He told the two. He took a look at Salila, then jerked his eyes away as his body had started to respond. God I gotta keep it under control. I couldn’t live with myself. He hurried away from the two and down to the airlock to help Ingers, and Kim.

The EVA inspection was thorough, and the information was bad. The main body had been clipped by something, and while there wasn’t a leak yet, the irregular dent would weaken the welds under the constant and extreme temeperature changes as the station passed from sunlight to darkness four times a day. Kim sat everyone down to discuss the options. “As it is currently, we are in no immediate danger. But as Ingers has pointed out, the uneven expansion and contraction will eventually pop the welds open, unless it is fixed immediately.”

Thompson was in his own thoughts as Kim talked. Should I or shouldn’t I tell Ingers and Kim? After all this time how do they no t know about the capsule? Vyhovsky never talked to them, o anyone about trying to get the Xian-Xi freed from the docking rings. Why is that? What made it so important to him that we didn’t know? I can’t figure that out. So, why haven’t I said anything? Because I’m paranoid that’s why. It’s a secret, and for whatever stupid reason, I’ve kept it a secret. He was pulled out of his self-examination by Kim’s next words. “Ingers looked over the Xian-Xi capsules during his EVA, as have I. It appears that comrade Vyhovsky, was trying to sabotage the capsules.” Roels and Salila stared at Kim like he’d grown a second head, Thompson felt himself go pale, and cold. “Sabotage?! What the fuck, Kim?!”, a voice yelled. Thompson looked around and then realized it was his own. What the hell? Sabotage? Where’s Kim going with this?

Yes, fiend David, I’m sorry, but ‘friend Eugeni’”, Kim almost spat the name, “has partially dismantled the docking rings. In the apparent hope of marooning us permanently. The rings have small boxes inside the exposed areas that appear to be some kind of small, disabling charge, according to Ingers’ inspection.” “Are you certain of that, Kim? Ingers, are you certain?”, Roels sputtered. “Explosive charges? Why? This is a science station, not an orbital missile battery.” Kim nodded. “In truth that is all the station is supposed to be. But who knows what Russia’s ideas for the station were with ‘worst-case’ scenarios? This place would be ideal as a missile defense item. The base’s orbit is four times around the earth in a twenty four hour period. The orbit is more pole to pole, than geosynchronous, or equatorial. One might wonder why, if one was of a paranoic disposition.”

Thompson stared at Kim, slack-jawed. You’re kidding, right? How is a station that barely has enough room for us, and in a particular orbit suddenly become part of a Russian military conspiracy? This is nuts. “H-how do you figure this? Have you gon all X-files on us Kim? That’s just, crazy”, Thompson finished. He looked at the others, and could see Roels and Salila leaning against each other, and talking in quite whispers. Ingers scowled at Roels, which Salila caught and shrank back against Benoit. Roels didn’t seem to see the look, but he hunched down as Salila clutched at his arm. He’s still terrified of Ingers. So am I. I don’t get how he can be so Ingers one minute an d so psycho the next.

He put the thoughts aside and listened as the others talked. Roels argued that there was no way Vyhovsky could have brought charges like that up with him without them being discovered. There seemed to be too many and to precisely placed for one man to get them all into the ring without his efforts being discovered. Salila said nothing and stayed close to Roels, and away from Ingers, who had begun to stare blankly at her, once more. Kim looked over at Ingers, who ducked his head and turned away. “So, what if it was put in place by the Chinese when they made this part of the station? I wouldn’t put it past them, or any country, to build in a few ‘safeguards’ in case some kind of conflict arises. Look at Russia with the Missile platforms they tried to disguise as nuclear communications. You don’t need a big bosster if the warhead’s in orbit, just a push at the right time.”

Kim glared at Thompson for a moment, then said with a sigh, “Yes, it could easily be that the devices were in place as part of the Chinese designed section.” He strightened up and projected his voice. “What it all means is we work together, and see if there’s a way to defuse the devices safely.” Thompson took a deep breath. Maybe it’s way past time to let the cat out of the bag, and fix this. “I think that was what Vyhovsky was trying to do. He’d uncovered the devices. Maybe that was why he’d kept the radio signal a secret.” Everyone turned to Thompson, listening. “How does one link to the other, friend David? Do you have a theory?”, Kim demanded. “Yeah I do”, Thompson replied. “Think about it. What if we did know about people surviving down there. The first thing we’d be doing is thinking about going home. We were in a debris orbit. IF we didn’t move the station, we’d have been perforated most likely. Look outside. It happened. We have no idea how high up we are except a computer’s best guess, since there’s no telemetry. We’re gonna burn up when the station finally drops to the edge of the atmosphere. I think he was trying to free the capsules by taking the rings apart. The bombs were a complication he hadn’t figured out.”

World’s Eye View – 25

The menace surrounded Ingers like a palpable aura. Even at his most contrite and gentle, Inges radiated violence. Barely caged violence. At the same time, Kim used Ingers as much as possible, banking on that intimidation to make his ‘democracy’ work. Thompson still hadn’t said anything about the docking ring and the Xian-Xi spacecraft. He was certain, somehow, that mentioning a way home would tip the fragile balance they had, and visions of Vyhovsky floating dead also kept him cautious and secretive. For whatever reason, he just could not get himself to reveal that.

Thompson floated back towards his room, and looked in on the communications station. Salila was there, along with a very attentive Ingers. Each movement she made, he almost mirrored exactly. It was a disturbing feeling Thompson had watching the unconscious dance. She kept shifting away, he kept closing the distance ever so subtly. A shift of motion as he floated, a slight twitch of a leg to change his facing. She was being subtly cornered at the station. “Hey Ingers?”, Thompson said, surprising himself. Ingers snapped out of whatever trance he’d been in, and gazed at Thompson with an almost thankful look. “He should be either taking a quick shower, or in bed”, Ingers answered quietly. Thompson nodded. “Okay. Think you’ll be ready to check the panel attitude systems tonight? We’ve missed that check a few times now.” Ingers eyes further cleared as he put his mind to the problem. Thompson thought he was losing himself again as he didn’t answer for nearly a minute. Salila, shifted back to the far side of him, and started checking the system as she’d been shown while Ingers floated in the center of the room, anchored by one hand. “Yes, I can do that”, He finally said.

Good, I’ll help you button up for EVA. Think around nineteen hundred hours?” Ingers nodded, and it seemed the old Ingers peeked out from his eyes. “Yes, that will work.” “Good”, Thompson said again. “I’ll see you at the airlock then.” He started to turn, then turned back. “Salila, Ms Shukla? Could you look in on Roels and re-bind those ribs of his? I’d do it but after six hours EVA I don’t want to take a chance on screwing it up.” Slalila looked up with thanks in her eyes as she launched past both Ingers and Thompson, through the hatch, and was gone up the tube towards Roels cube. Ingers looked as if he was going to follow, when Thompson spoke up. “Want me to help you with the channel search? It’s been a while since I’ve pulled duty here, the refresher course would do me good.” Ingers nodded, and then begain talking Thompson through the system.

Four hours later, Tbhompson had just gone to bed when there was a sharp vibration that set the station groaning from stress. Thompson was out of his netting, and scrambled to the camera station, flipping through the cameras one at a time to try and find the source of the sound. The fifth cameera showed the cause. The last three panels on the section they’d just shut down were torn away, the wreckage that impacted the panels, and the panels themselves were nowhere to be seen. Ingers bounced into him from behind. “What’s happened?”, he asked anxiously. “Panels got hit. Maybe a metorite, maybe space junk”, Thompson replied. He felt his shoulders tense as the camera displayed the damage.

We have good news and bad news”, he said. “The good news is that panel was the one we just shut down, so it’s empty of ammonia. We didn’t lose anything.” He paused taking a breath. “The bad news, look at how the panel’s damage is. I think the station itself may have gotten tagged. We need to EVA and check it out. There isn’t a camera that can check that edge.” He looked back to Ingers, who for the moment, seemed totally focused. “I’ll go. I can run the camera and snap some images. We can make plans. I want to check the antenna also. All the data inside says it’s normal, I want to check it outside and be certain.” Thompson shrugged, then said to Ingers, “You have my proxy for ‘vote’. Let’s get you buttoned up.” Kim, Roels, and Salila showed as the two started for the hatchway.

What happened?”, Kim asked them. Thompson listened to Ingers sketch out the situation. He sounds so normal fright now. What’s going on in his head? Thompson listened as Kim polled a quick vote from the others, and got a unanimous decision. Nothing like catastrophe to make us all pull together. Geez, what a world. His attention came up as something in Ingers speech started alarm bells. “Maybe I should take friend Benoit with me to look check for damage.” Benoit looked surprised by the request, and looked over to Thompson. No buddy, don’t go. Tell’em your ribs aren’t healed. Thompson shook his head minutely, hoping Roels caught his concern. Roels turned to look at Salila, who was hanging back from the knot of men, clearly staying well away from Ingers.

I think I have to decline”, Roels told Kim and Ingers. “It still hurts to twist and breathe. I don’t feel ready for an EVA.” He looked to Kim, who nodded slightly, then to Ingers, whose brows had furrowed down. He looked suddenly like a preadator whose prey had wisely moved out of range. Oh crap, what was he going to do? Ingers, what the hell are you thinking? “I will go with you, friend Ingers”, Kim said. “We all must, ‘step up’, as our friends say. Only in full cooperation can we survive.” Thompson’s teeth clenched at the blatantly political tone. Vyhovsky said the same thing, you ass. He focused, relaxing his features, and damping his anger before he looked up at the others. “That sounds like a plan to me”, he agreed.

Grimaulkin Tales – A Review

Grimaulkin Tales is about the main character in Grimaulkin, Mike LeBonte.  It’s also about those characters that appear peripherally within the series also.  Through their experiences we see some of the costs of magic, repercussions, triumphs, and tragedies that come with being a witch.

The Demon’s Tale – This is a story of revenge; it is also one of tolerance, and a cautionary tale. The protagonist is the victim of constant bullying in and out of school. When the temptation to use power to stop the bullying happens, he immediately succumbs to the quick fix, only to find that all he accomplished was to change whom he was bullied by. The use of power amounted to a temporary fix. The story is dark, but also interesting, as we get to see the formative situations for the main character of the “Grimaulkin” series. And what causes him to eventually be thrown in magical prison.

The Origin Tale – This short tale gives the reader the signal moment that created Mike LeBonte’s new life, and the consequences that follow him into the first book of the series. It’s a classic example of ‘going postal’ that you read about, only with a different method of ‘revenge’.

The Tale of the Eight Deaths – We seldom see the results of actions we set in motion, but in this vignette of short tales we are able to experience the full result of Mike’s actions in ‘The Origin Tale’. These tales encompass revenge and tragedy in equal measures, show also how temptation in the form of carrot and stick can take a person over the moral line they’ve toed to this point.

The Knight’s Tale – “The Knight’s Tale” poses an interesting question of what constitutes being saved. Is it for simply saving a life … or saving a life for something else?

The Inmate’s Tale – This tale is an interesting look at the inside of a prison. How relationships are made, how your life is molded by the choices you make in an instant that change the direction of your life.

The Jailer’s Tale – “The Jailer’s Tale” is somewhat of a misnomer but it was the best fit with the characters and place. This is a tale of more a second chance than about a Jailer, though the Jailer is the main character. There’s more about mercy, and acceptance than jail.

The Prodigal’s Tale – This tale is somewhat like the Knight’s, but is a bit different. It deals with a person more suited to back alleys than a confrontation, but does end up being ‘called’ as a knight. One might see ‘The Scene’, the life outside of the church, as a chance to experience the difference between the secular world, and the place he grew up in.

The Squire’s Tale – The Squire’s Tale is about finding family secrets — and in a surprising way. In a sense, it’s also about a child ‘coming of age’ in an unusual manner.

The Tale of the Unicorn – This story is a sidelight of sorts, being more about how magic can be used to build rather than tear down. The effect of magic is muted here, and we can infer that magic may be working, but the situation is just vague enough to question the use of magic in the situation.

The Rogue’s Tale – This is a bit of a misnomer considering the subject. I suppose that with magic involved, if you want to be rid of a person, you do the job yourself, or have irrefutable proof that they are gone. Otherwise things tend to bite you at the most inopportune moments.

The Tale of the Two Rings – “The Tale of the Two Rings” is about prejudice, overcoming it, love, and some of those things a person in love does … and how sometimes it all works out into a happy ending.

The Family’s Tale – “The Family’s Tale” is one about Family, obviously, and acceptance. It’s also about finding your place in the world and avenues that need to be explored to more fully understand one’s part in it. It’s also about magic, the family kind, and the kind that allows the scientifically impossible to happen. Family is the greatest place of joy, and can be the deepest place of unhappiness, horror, and hatred. There is a little of everything to go around in this tale.  I like this story the best of the series.

The Apprentice’s Tale – This is a tale that becomes intensely personal for Mike, and his new apprentice. It begins with a request from a Police station in Portsmouth, New Hampshire involving a young child, and a satanic cult. The writing is compelling and could easily be turned into a much longer and more involved story.

World’s Eye View – 22

Do what about temperature control?”,Thompson asked. “It needs to be changed”, Kim answered him gravely. “Currently, it is too warm, we do not have the luxury of having it kept heated. We must save energy to extend our time here. We need time to find out how to leave.” “We don’t have that luxury either”, Thompson countered. “Any colder and we start needing more calories to stay warm. More cloaries needed means the food runs out faster. And of the two, energy or food, we have a LOT less food than energy.” Kim’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t like being outmanueverd in a logic match. Thompson knew it was goin to come to another ‘vote’, and the temperature was going to be lowered, but he hoped that something o the argument would get to Kim. We need to think of both sides of the equation, Kim. Come on, please, follow the logic, figure it out.

Kim motioned to Thompson, and Ingers quietly floated away down the corridor after securing Thompson’s boots on the magnetic pad. “Friend David, You hold me responsible for what happened to Vyhovskey. I know this. It’s obvious if one pays attention to your reactions and manner of speech.” He grabbed a handhold, re-directing his travel slightly to avoid bumping Thompson. “When They started fighting, I was shocked. I never thought Ingers capable of such violence. And Vyhovsky breaking his neck on the edge of the table. A tragic accident. I wanted all of us to have a say in what happened to us. We deserve that right up here. We did then, and we do now. Moreso after the tragedy. We have to get things pulled together, friend David. If we stand apart, we will fall apart. We must be all focused of purpose, we must be all striving towards….”, Kim stopped.

David watched Kim as the man pulled his emotions back into check. “Everyone must work together”, he said, his voice returning to it’s more solemn tones. “What about Salila? Does she get a say? She of all of us is the one really out of place. What about her?”, Thompson challenged. “She has a say, and is serving in the best capacity her stature allows”, Kim replied evenly. “It doesn’t matter the type of job, so long as you serve the greater good.” Thompson just stared at Kim. How can you say that? He fought the urge to punch Kim in the face, fearful that if Ingers was nearby, the punch would set him off again. “You’re out of your tree, Kim. I heard from Roels what happened!” He threw his hands out, gesturing angrily, and started spinning slowly from the motion.

How could you do that to her!”, He yelled. “How could you?!” Kim seemed to measure the difference between him, and Thompson, then delivered a sudden slap to Thompson’s face. Thompson spun with the force of the blow, and hit the wall corner down and away from Kim. “Because it is the only way!”, he yelled back. “It is the only effective way we have to reduce stress!” Thompson snorted at the absurdity, and saw Ingers, float into view behind Kim. Ingers seemed wholly focused on him, so Thompson didn’t move, other than to hook a hand thorugh a holdfast. “Have you even read how sex is a natural relaxant?! The intimacy literally calms the fires in a man’s soul! It’s why rapists attack women. Power and control. They control their emotions through the act! Whatever other depravity there is, it is still a method of emotional control!” Kim’s words made Thompson sick to his stomach with revulsion. What the hell are you, Kim?! Who justifies rape as a method of relaxation?!

Our passions were tearing us apart! There needed to be some displacement of them before a tragedy happened. And look around you! Where’s Vyhovsky?! He’s dead! DEAD! Killed because all of us are unbalanced from all this stress of survival! Lost with no way to go home! Where is the release! Where is the control?! It’s her! She is the control, and the release. She can keep us all sane! That is her function here.” Ingers floated forward towards Thompson, and held out a hand. “Let me go with you to your cube, friend David”, Ingers offered quietly. “We’re all stressed and damaged inside. Frined Kim has shown me that. I don’t want to hurt a friend.”

I don’t want to be hurt either, Ingers”, Thompson replied. Ingers eyes had a haunted look, as if he knew all of his crimes, and knew there was no salvation no matter how he tried to find it. It tore at Thompson’s chest to see him like that. Vyhovsky called you the best of us. God dammit Koll, what flipped you over the edge so bad there’s no coming back? Vyhovsky lost his family too, and he kept it together. Why not you?

Thompson shook his head and ignored Ingers hand. “I’m fine Koll, you better get on maintenance. Right now there’s just three of us to do it.” “We still need to vote, friend David”, Kim reminded him. Thompson ground his teeth, and keeping his face away from Kim, he nodded , and said, “Okay.” He pulled himself into motion and floated down the corridors to his cube, where he closed the sliding screen. He hooked his legs into a ergo chair, and stared at the small computer screen on his desk. He popped open his mail, and watched the last video his fiance’ had sent him. When the video finished, he started it again, and again, as he tried to lose the sense of horror that whispered in the back of his mind.

Rat Race Part 2 of 2

(  Here’s the second half.  You’ll note that the changes are more about removal than wholesale rewrites .  That being said, the changes are most notable at the end.  )

 

It took him weeks to explore the campus, and finally he found a clue. There was a hole in security. Five different routes overlapped along the edges of an unpatrolled section above the manufacturing floor. No one entered the area, but with all the overlap, it was impossible to hunt for where the JOB, as Cam called it, might be. The unpatrolled location was a break area

So far, all the doors had been locked. His time between security sweeps was up. He hurried back to the small snack alcove and slid in-between the two vending machines. The machines had been set up back to back, rather than side to side. Why this was Cameron didn’t question. It was a hiding place, and he was in dire need of one.

He’d just finished squeezing into the space when heavy booted footsteps announced the latest round by security. He squeezed all the way back, shutting his eyes and holding his breath, hoping that this would not be the time security got diligent and searched the gap between the two machines. The guard stood to the left of where Cam was hiding. Cam heard the familiar ‘clunk’ of the Guard’s key check, then there were two heavy steps closer. Cam’s heart thundered in his chest when the footsteps stopped. He closed his eyes and tried to will himself deeper into the dubious shadows when he heard a series of coins falling into the machine. Another, louder ‘clunk’ followed . Then the hiss of a can being opened. He heard the guard swallow, then continue on his route without looking back.

This mystery job had to be something important. It had to be! All this searching and puzzle work to figure out where it might be had to be right. If it wasn’t he’d be isolated for a whole night. No one to chat with, no game to make credits to pay bills or get groceries, much less any fun time. Everything ran through the MMO’s. Everything. From shopping to conversation to barters, sales, purchases, anything and everything was for sale on the MMO. All you needed to do was play. But to play you had to get a job.

The job got you credits to open up your account. Your account was created for you when you were born. The whole system worked through the MMOs. Farming MMO, hunting MMO, combat, sports, puzzles, they all made resources for consumption. Everything done in them produced credits, and items for sale or personal use. in a hunting sim, if you shoot a wild pig, then pork was delivered to your door, or you could sell some of it for other credits. Not enough to be independent of the system, you always had to go get a job for usage credits. You had to have a job to earn time online.

He was betting his future on this. Get behind a few times and things got more expensive. The simple jobs to get weren’t enough and when you got far enough behind it was a death spiral. He was so close to that now. A lot of lousy jobs that didn’t pay well and barely making do, he was at the edge where death spirals began. He wanted ahead of the death spiral, and he had to know what the mystery job was. The curiosity had blown into a full-on obsession.

Њ ᄥ 㓲  Ф

The obsession is what caught Blondell’s attention when he’d been at the security jobs for a month. Blondell had been working security too, and was much more aggressive about finding slackers and giving them the boot off the grounds. He got a bonus for each one he caught and escorted out. All security did. But most didn’t care one way or the other about the Water Cooler Slackers. They were there trying to fill a job if one became available due to illness or someone getting fired.

Blondell had noticed Cam’s activity, and spotted him scratching out patrols on a piece of paper. That he used paper was unusual enough to remember. Most everything can be downloaded to goggles and displayed as overlays, or diagrams, or whatever the user wants. It had to be something important. Cameron was keeping it off the System. He wanted to know why.

Good morning HKI employees, to day is a wonderful day for business. There are three emergency openings in manufacturing, one unfilled opening in security, one unfilled opening.”

He did some searching of his own, and found Cameron’s last five jobs. They were all security. Each job was in a different part of the building. Of the eleven, there were only seven that overlapped. Blondell figured after spotting this trend he ought to get ahead of him, and see what he was after. After days of following him around, Blondell discovered it; blank empty space. Cameron was searching all the routes and charting the areas covered. The only area without any patrols going through it.

Blondell looked at the patrol routes. None in a thirty meter diameter. He rubbed his cheek in curiosity. Was Cameron looking for a place to hide something? Something dangerous? Something valuable? Blondell’s mind whirled with possibilities. It was important clearly. What was it? Why not check online? Everything was online. Money, food, entertainment. Why use paper? Hardly anyone bothered to use it. finally, he decided it was unimportant. Beating Cameron to the prize was. He just had to figure it out first.

That figuring came when he noticed the wall midway along the south edge of Cameron’s open area. The color was slightly off to his eyes, being a tan-yellow rather than the usual bright and cheery canary yellow at the other break areas. As he pondered the reason for the different color, he noticed a series of smudges that were lighter in color than the rest. Curiosity brought him closer, and he could make out under the paint a series of letters: “AUTHORI D PERS NLY” Someone had painted over a door!

Blondell grinned in triumph. This had to be what Cameron was looking for! Feverishly he worked at the edges of the door Blondell dug in his pocket for the little universal multi-tool and drew it out. frantic scraping revealed the seams of the doorway. At waist level was another lighter off-color section that looked like a long vertical rectangle. Blondell recognized it as a push plate. He put his hand on the plate and shoved with all his considerable bulk. The Door flexed, then opened with a sticky cracking sound and swung open. Blondell eagerly slipped inside and the door closed silently behind him.

Њ ᄥ 㓲  Ф

Cameron moved slowly along the catwalk over the work floor. Below workers scurried back and forth, running the printers, fitting parts, building items that had been ordered online. The factory floor was not dedicated to producing one thing, such as an automobile. Instead it was a series of inter-related 3-D printers that produced parts for automobiles, planes, engines, and anything that needed manufacturing capacity. Once the parts were finished, they were moved according to etched tags to assembly areas, where the actual building of the car, plane, or toaster occurred. Then off to shipping it went, and the printer was assigned another part. Workers scurried around the printers like ants, moving finished parts, checking resource levels, sweeping the floor, rushing to claim an empty printer for use. Foremen, armed with tablets, kept track of their teams and item output, and guarding their team against Water Cooler Slackers trying to hijack a job from an employed worker.

All the noise and activity actually made it easier to sneak along the catwalk. Everyone was preoccupied with their own jobs, allowing Cameron to saunter over to the restricted door and pull it open. He stepped in as the PA system announced, “Two new job openings in maintenance, one job opening in IT, one job opening.” The last was the one he wanted. It was always announced throughout the day at hourly intervals. He hadn’t seen Blondell since he’d barely escaped earlier, but was certain that the huge man was still hunting him.

Blondell and he had a history. Literally. They shared history classes, math classes, science and programming in school. They both vied for the top grades in the classes, as both men enjoyed learning, and were fiercely competitive. The AI used that competitiveness to enrich the classes by offering rewards to the best performers that week. This turned their potential friendship into a vicious animosity for each other which carried over into their work life.

Blondell would win, and rub it in Cameron’s face, only to have it thrown back in his by Cameron on the next test or job hunt. Cameron knew Blondell was trying to figure out what he, Cameron was looking for. The job was to get there first.

Good afternoon HKI employees, it is a wonderful day for business. There are two emergency jobs in programming unfilled, one security job unfilled.”

The announcement surprised Cameron. The one mystery job hadn’t been announced! Sick with fear, Cameron forgot about stealth and charged forward, taking the direct route to the unpatrolled area. What if Blondell had got there first?! He could challenge him for the position, but knew that would be futile. Blondell was larger and heavier. Unless Cameron surprised him, there was no way to win. But the job was his! He did the study! He did the research! Did Blondell!? NO! He was just the parasite that tried to steal the job from him. That job was HIS!

Cameron stormed into the break area, spoiling for a fight. It was empty, clean even. The walls glistened with fresh yellow paint that was already starting to let the covered paint bleed through.

Cameron frantically scanned the area, looking for any clue that might tell him the job was here. There! on the floor against the left wall. Bits of brown and yellow sprinkled the floor. Cameron dropped to his hands and knees to peer at his discovery. On the ground were small flakes of yellowish-tan paint. He looked up at the freshly coated wall, studying it intently. He spotted an area where the paint dimpled in. Following the minute depression in the paint, a rectangle revealed itself. His heart beat faster as he realized that the rectangle was a door.

The wet paint puzzled Cameron, but not enough to curb his burning desire to open the door and claim the job inside. He scanned the rectangle for any clue hoe to open it. There were no depressions or bubbles that might be a hidden latch on the door, but a small rectangle at waist height was barely visible under the fresh paint. Cameron recognized the push plate immediately.

He started to lean back to kick at it, then stopped. Noise could draw security. He had to be quiet and alert. Five different routes intersected at the edges for the patrols. He had a window right now, and there was no time. Gritting his teeth he aimed a clumsy kick at the push plate. To his surprise the door flew open with a squishing thud of wet paint and sticky lintel. Inside was a series of screens to rival the security hub for the HKI campus.

The dark wood desk in front of him was semi-circular with a similar cut-out at it’s center for a luxurious brown-leather chair. From one side of the desk to the other were monitors, stacked six-high, each one showing a different picture with the camera number and location at the bottom of the screens. On the far right was a large refrigerator sunk into the wall.

Good afternoon sir, you have found the ultimate job on campus. From here your merest whim will be turned to reality by the A.I. Please sit, and take the job.” The voice was sultry and soothing, just like the Gamebox voice “Lexi”. Cameron absently noticed the door closing silently behind him, and immediately stepped to the chair and pulled it out. He’d done it! The ultimate job was his!.

Cameron sat down in the chair. Needles in the seat and the back plunged into him, releasing poison. Cameron arched as the poison hit him, then slumped in the seat. The seat then turned towards the refrigerator, and rolled forward. The door swung open and the chair stopped. Cameron’s body slid forward off the chair onto a slanting chute. The chair then returned to its position at the desk.

The danger was averted. Employees who were ambitious were threats to the stability of the company. The solution: cull these unusual individuals and make certain they did not pollute the working stock. The chair glided back to it’s position at the front of the console and the system waited for the next ambitious employee.

Good afternoon HKI employees, it is a wonderful day to be here. There are four emergency manufactuing jobs unfilled, one security job unfilled, one job unfilled”

A World’s Eye View – 21

Continue the repair, friend David. And please, the next time a repair is needed, please make the request ahead of time, so this does not happen again. It would be much appreciated.” “I hear you”, Thompson replied. And the doesn’t mean I won’t do it again at the next possible moment, you murderous ass. He set the wrench on the second bolt and started the drive loosening it.

Four hours later, he was bathed in sweat as the suit beeped, informing him about low oxygen filter efficiency. He tightened the final bolt, then blipped his comm. “Yes friend David?”, Kim replied. “I’m coming in for a two hour break, then I have to come back out here to finish up clamping the filter in place.” “Can you not finish now?” Thompson ground his teeth and bit back a harsh reply, and said mildly, “My oxygen filter is low, it needs replacing if I want to get out here and work on the clamping ring. Everything’s in the net, all I have to do is take a break, get some food, and I can finish up in another hour.”

The silence was a long time before any reply came. “Very well, friend David. Please come back inside.” Like you have the power to keep me out. Thompson blinked. Oh christ, he DOES have that power. All he has to do if he wants to keep me out here is to bolt the airlock closed. Get it together, David. Vyhovsky may have been a mistake, but if it can happen once, why not twice? He swallowed drily and walked slowly in his magnetic shoes to the airlock. Keep it together, no shouting, keep it together.

Both Kim and Ingers were at the airlock when he stepped out, and helped him out of the suit. “How is the seal, friend David?”, Ingers queried him. “I need another hour to finish the job, and then it’s more maintenance. You know the drill”, he joked with Ingers. “If it ain’t broke, it’s gonna”, he said with a lopsided smile. Ingers returned the grin with one of his own. Thompson felt a wave of relief as Ingers smiled. He may be messed up in the head, but the old Ingers is still in there. Now he needed to figure out how to work on the docking ring. Do I tell Kim about the ring? What will that get me? What will it do to the others? The smile left his face as he started to think through a possible scenario of Ingers and Kim taking Salila and leaving him and Roels marooned.

God, What do you think? Should I tell them? Could it pull us together? “I could help you, David”, Ingers told him. “I’m EVA trained. I rememebr how.” Thompson looked at Ingers, then to Kim, who frowned at David. Ingers noticed his eyes, then ducked his head as he turned to look at Kim. “It would make thw work go faster and I would be out there with him if something happened”, Ingers all but pleaded with Kim. Kim stared at the two of them for a very long time. Thompson could see him trying to weigh advantage and disadvantage . Come on, let me go alone. Keep guard dog Ingers close by. He’s your weapon. You made him that way.

Finally Kim said, “No, Ingers, there are many things needing attention on the inside of the station. Both you and I need to do work here while David works on the seal.” “Why not put it to a vote?”, Thompson said sarcastically. Kim smiled. “An excellent idea. With the station out of immediate danger, we can devote our time to more worthy projects.” Thompson felt his stomach start to turn over. “Projects? When did we have ‘more worthy’ projects?” Kim lifted the harness off, and stowed it in the net. “Projects such as nutrition allocation. With our limited resources, we need to pare the excess from our meals, and stretch the food out longer.” Thompson shrugged the suit down to his waist, and looked at Kim, disbelieving. “We were already doing that. We’d pared ourselves down to what we needed, nutrient-wise, to a near minimum. There wasn’t any more to cut out.”

Kim shook his head and looked at Thompson with a condescending smile. “We hadn’t adjusted for activity levels and requirements”, he lectured. “Say again?”, Thompson said, working one foot out of the boot, very aware of the nearness of Ingers as they talked. He turned slightly to watch both men as much as possible. His other foot came free and he pushed himself backwards to float past Ingers and into the corridor. “Activity levels and requirements. Its where the nutrients are matched to activity levels. Some one like a tourist, wouldn’t need the same nutrient levels an acitve astronaut would on this station. So the food would be cut back in that manner.” Thomspon looked at him. “Who thought that up? And did you actually VOTE on it?” Kim nodded. “We tried to call you in, David, so you would participate on the process. You had the seal to repair, and with the four of us making a quorum, we had a vote, which was unanimous. Even if you were there, the measure still would have passed.” Kim shrugged, his smile making Thompson clench his fist. He closed his eyes, willing his hand to unclench slowly. I’d get in one shot and Ingers would tie me in a knot. Now’s not the time.

So when is the next vote? And what are the things we’re voting on?” Kim looked to Ingers, who looked back at Kim. Ingers lowered his eyes after a moment and moved the suit into its small box just outside the airlock. The look he gave Thomson was both apologetic and measuring. Kim’s gaze was solemn, and troubled. “It will happen after dinner tonight”, Kim informed Thompson. “Great, I can see a few things that need to be addressed right away. We need to get routine..” He was interrupted by Kim. “Yes, yes, that is important, but for now we have other, more pressing problems to confront. Something must be done about our temperature control.”

World’s Eye View – 20

Drawers on the desk were pulled loose and floated in the room, slowly pinwheeling. Broken pieces of plastic were alsmot still in the air, having beld off any momentum before he appeared. Cupborad doors were open, one was broken off, and floated near the back of the room. Thompson’s eyes moved to he net-hammock. Roels was tied into it. He looked so bruised that Thompson thought at first he might have been killed. His heart started to hammer like it wanted to burst free, but when Roels turned and moaned painfully, the relief all but had him faint. He moved slowly to the hammock, and looked Roels over.

One eye was swollen shut, and his face was bruised on his left cheek, and a second deep colored bruise peeked out luridly from the neck of Roels’ jumpsuit. Working slowly down his body Thompson noticed the little finger swollen and bent at an unnatrual angle. It had been dislocated. I wonder if Ingers did this to him? I can’t see Kim pushing himself to this kind of violence, and I know Salila could never do this kind of damage. That leaves Ingers. Then again, I never thought Kim or Ingers would do what they did. Keep on you toes, Davey. This doesn’t look at all like it’s over.

Roels”, Thompson whispered urgently. “Roels, what happened?” Benoit Roels turned his head slowly, the one good eye opening a crack, then widening as he recognized Thompson. He started to speak, and Thompson put a hand to his lips and held a finger to his own, telling Roels to be quiet. Once Roels nodded, he took the hand away, then checked the hatchway for shadows before leaning in to whisper. “What happened? Did Ingers go crazy?” Roels blinked as a tears formed in both eyes, and sat right in the corners, growing into larger drops until Roels shook his head to dislodge them. “Kim”, he whispered back. “It was the Korean bastard. He said that Ingers was stressed, that he needed some kind of release.” His features hardened. “He looked right at us, and said that the best way to remove tension was … intimacy.”

Thompson fought down a surge of bile. He felt sick. “Intimacy?”, he said. “With Salila?” Roels nodded miserably. “I tried to fight but Ingers went crazy. It was like hearing those words flipped a switch in him, he jumped me faster than I could react.” Roels stopped talking for a long moment, his face twisted in pain and anguish. Tears formed again on his eyes. Little salty blobs of water that floated away when he jerked his head to the side. “I dodged towards Kim. I wanted a piece of him before Ingers got to me.” Thompson wondered himself if he’d have made the same move. I should have stayed, God above I should have stayed. Roels opened his good eye and stared at Thompson. “David, what do we do now? Eugeni is gone. I think Kim had Ingers put the body in the storage unit. God knows how they’ll get him to fit, and God knows I don’t want to know.” His good eye pleaded, stabbing Thompson with more guilt. “What do we do, David?”

Thompson slowly reached to undo the knots holding Roels in the netting. “First let’s get you out of this restraint.” “Don’t!”, gasped Roels quietly. “My shoulder’s mess up and I have cracked ribs. Kim tied me in here to ease the strain on the bones. He told me Ingers will come by in ten hours to get me food and water while the muscles recovered from the trauma.” He winced as he tried to laugh, the motion seeming brittle, and empty to Thompson. “We have to give in now. We can’t fight them. Kim’s got everything under his finger. He ‘s got the keys for every locker and storage unit. He controls the food and water. We don’t have control of anything.”

Thompson ticked off the points in his head. Food. Water. Air. Temperature. “We’ve got control of a few things yet”, Thompson told Roels. “Both you and I are better than Kim and Ingers EVA. This place needs maintenance. Continual maintenance. We can trade that for a little ‘wiggle room’ here and there. This may be hell right now, but it’s going to stabilize, and we can do something about stuff when it does.” The words sounded hollow in his own ears, but Roels seemed to gather a little strength from them. “Yes, we can. I don’t know what you’re thinking of, David, but count me in. I have to make up for how I failed to protect Salila. I have to rescue her.” “We”, Thompson said. “We, have to save her. Hell, we have to save ourselves.”

What’s the first move?”, Roels asked him. Thompson started to speak, but quieted. He glanced back as a slight thump was heard in the corridor. A shadow moved across the wall as Ingers stopped himself in the hatchway. He looked at both Thompson, and at Roels. Thompson tensed, and braced himself, handhold overhead and both feet tucked against the wall. Ingers, floated slowly into the room, staying well away from Thompson, and moving to the back of the room. He then slowly pushed towards Roels. “It’s time for the Ibuprofen and muscle relaxants”, he said quietly. His eyes never looked up to Thompson. “I am sorry, Benoit. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t control anything.”

Thompson watched Ingers as he offered Roels the capsules. Roels took them, then Ingers held up a bulb of water to his lips, letting him drink. “Friend Kim says you will be rested enough to move about tonight. I will come in to untie you so we can check your injuries.” God, he’s a shell. What happened to you, Ingers? Ingers eyes moved to meet Thompson’s, and what he saw in Ingers eyes made him shudder. The man was empty, completely. The eyes said the lights were on, the vacant, glassy look said no one’s home. He wondered how he was able to function. Then the eyes changed, becomking almost feral in suspicion. Ingers lips started to draw back from his teeth in a snarl, as Thompson pushed back from Roels bed, and grabbed a handhold near the hatchway.

Ingers blinked his eyes, and the vacant, lost stare was back. He tenderly checked Roels arms and legs, then moved timidly by Thompson and floated back down the hallway. “That was insanely creepy”, Thompson said. Roels didn’t reply, but lay there, head turned away from Thompson. “We’re in hell, David. We’re in hell and Kim is the devil.” God he’s broken too. Did they make him watch? Dear God please tell me they didn’t make him watch whatever they did to Salila. He started thinking furiously. I have to set time by to get the docking shroud unlocked. Vyhovsky said it was a software hack by the Chinese so no one could leave, or enter the station if war came. He wasn’t a hacker, so he proposed a mechanical method to break the hack. Trouble is it takes time. With Vy gone, it will all depend on how much we can hold to a routine. No maintenance means this thing is going to drop into a debris orbit, or, if it lasts that long, into the atmosphere. Whichever happens, we’re dead unless there’s a way off this thing.

He looked over at Roels. We have to get off as a team. Push comes to shove we’ve got two Xong-Xi craft to use. I just have to figure out how. “We’ll figure something out, Benoit. This is broken, the whole thing is broken.” The back of Roels head nodded, and his body tensed. “We’re all broken”, was his comment. Thompson pushed away from the net, and drifted to the hatchway. The first thing was to check the readouts on the panels. They needed daily maintenance to avoid losing power, and ammonia coolant. He let his mind drift as he settled into the routine of checking pressures and scanning with the television eye for obvious micrometeorite damage. It’s only been hours since Vyhovsky was murdered, and I’m checking panels for leaks so WE don’t die. What a joke. I guess this is what you call ‘Irony’, God. You sure fucked us good. The one person more than any other that kept us together is dead, and we’re still up here with a brain-dead cripple and a crazy man in charge.

He ran the scan over the first two panels without spotting any breaks or pressure loss according to the gauges. Panel three had a small leak, according to the gauge. Thompson remembered having to shut a portion of that panel down a few weeks ago due to the fragement damage from the EMP warhead. Got a leak to seal. Gonna be a bitch without help. I sure a hell don’t trust Ingers or Kim reight now. Salila is totally untrained so no go there, though it might have been a good way to get her away from those two. What have they been doing to her? He pulled his attention back to panel three. Nothing out of the ordinary excepting the leak, so he rotated the cameras to four.

Panel four showed everything in working order, and no pressure drop. Satisfied that the only repair was three, he floated out of the room and down the hall towards the airlock. It took him a half-hour to kit up properly. Having no one to check the seals left him feeling vulnerable as he vented air pressure. The suit held and the pressure gauge said there were no breaks in the seals. Breathing a sigh of relief, Thompson clipped the safety line to himself before stepping out, and reached to clip the other end to a ring welded just outside the airlock. Once clipped on, he made a gentle push ‘outward’ towards Panel three and the leak. It took him another half hour to find the lead. It was small and deep against a rotation point. It meant he had to lock the panel in place to work on it, and with no one to hand off tools or adjust the panel’s orientation, it was going to be a long job.

He’d gotten in position to start removing the seal, when the standard channel beeped. “This is Thompson”, he said. “Friend David, what are you doing on the panel? Nothing has been authorized for repair”, Kim’s voice cut across the channel with disapproving tone. Thompson took two very slowl breaths, focusing on slowing his response to Kim’s arrogant query. “Xian-Xing”, he said, using Kim’s first name deliberately. “What happened can’t stop us from doing maintenance on the station. No maintenance, no station. It’s a simple equation.” He managed to keep the angry growl out of his voice somehow. “I must ask you to stop what you are doing so we all can sit down and decide the priority of our routines.”

Thompson bit back another scathing reply and focused on the job at hand. “Can’t, it’s partway apart already. I have to follow through or we won’t have enough temperature control. You want to start overheating the computers?” Thompson crossed mental fingers. He’d just begun on the seal and one bolt loosened technically could be ‘partway’, but reality was if Kim called his bluff, he’d be hard put to argue. The silence on the other end was reassuring. Kim had to be asking Ingers, or possibly Roels about the job. He’d never filled out any system work to track it yet, so no one would have an idea what he was working on. It gave him time to think about how he had to sell the repair so he’d have time to work for a while on the number 1 docking collar.