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.

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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.

The World’s Eye View – 19

Kim looked over to Ingers, and Thompson’s stomach dropped into his toes. Great job Dave. Open your mouth and become the next one on Kim’s ‘list.’ He shut up and looked away, feeling every bit of Kim’s stare as it moved back to him. God help us all, please. We’re in deep now. We have to do something. I can’t. I’m scared. Is Kim going to use Ingers to kill me too? No way I can beat him. Ingers would tear me apart in just a few seconds. He didn’t look up, trying, like Roels and Salila had been for weeks, to be unnoticed, to be unmolested by something frightening nearby. He felt, rather than saw, Kim glide next to him. “I understand your grief, friend Thompson. This is nothing I had ever wanted to happen. Pull it together and let us help Ingers, and Roels. We have much work to do now that we are short a scientist once more.”

Thompson nodded, willing to do anything to make Kim go away and leave him alone. Kim patted his shoulder in a fatherly manner and moved to Roels and Salila. Thompson glanced over at Ingers, and ducked as a large floating bit of vomit spun lazily in the weightless atmosphere past his cheek. The room stank of fear and feces. Vyhovsky’s body voided itself as a last natural function, lending a further reek to the air. Thompson watched Kim talk quietly to Roels and Salila, who both nodded, then looked away, eyes downcast. Kim floated back towards Ingers, batting small pieces of flying filth from his path. He grabbed a handhold, then lay his other hand on Ingers shuddering shoulders. Ingers froze in place as Kim began to talk urgently, and quietly in his ear. The room suddenly seemed too small, and Thompson launched himself from the room, arrowing through the hatch and rebounding off the wall with practiced ease.

He came to rest minutes later in the ‘Chinese section. He had curled up in a high corner of the room, trying to be as small and hidden as possible. His heart was racing as the scene played over and over in his mind. He kept hearing the rotten crack of Vyhovsky’s neck, and seeing the last spasm of his friend’s life. He tried to focus on his surroundings, but the loss, the terrible loss kept flaring through his mind, and he would find himself in the corner once more, huddling in fear. He thought he heard muffled screams, and huddled tighter in the corner as the vision of Vyhovsky’s head flopping like a rag doll’s in zero-g haunted his memory.

It took time to fight past the grotesque vision, and make himself move away from the corner. The advantage of weightlessness meant that any perturbation to a static object pushed it into motion. So, as Thompson uncoiled, he found himself drifting towards the center of the room. A surge of panic threatened to push him back to the corner, but he gritted his teeth, and let himself drift slowly through the room, grabbing a handhold near Vyhovsky’s net-board bed. The Chinese felt that a solid surface helped produce sounder, and more refreshing sleep. Thus the boards were part of the first mission, and had been retained in spite of inconclusive evidence.

Thompson slowly glided back towards his cube, wary of meeting anyone in the hall. With only five of them now, he mentally calculated the odds of getting home a lot more remote than when Vyhovsky had been alive. He told me about the collars, and how they seemed jammed by software. We were supposed to try and pull the collars apart, but never really put some time to it as we were shorthanded. Now we’re permanently shorthanded. I’m not certain what Kim has in store, but he’s the big dog now, as they say back home. So when he barks, everyone listens. I wonder how Ingers is, the fucker. He killed him. He killed Vy. He looked so lost when he did it, like something else was holding the reins when it happened. Was this what Kim was trying to warn people about. Some kind o psycho? Or… Thompson grabbed the handhold, and floated by his hammock-bed. The thought that Kim might have convinced Ingers to attack Vyhovsky felt absurd at first, but he was certain he saw some kind of communication between Ingers and Kim just before everything happened.

One thing’s certain, nothing is ever going to be the same again. Vyhovsky was the glue, he kept us going and kept the routine that took care of this place. The question now is can we hold it together. Or are we starting to spiral in? It this the death spiral? God help me, part of me wants it to be. God, please help. We really, really, could use some kind of miracle, any kind of miracle really. I’d really like to know right now if you’re listening.

Thompson floated away from the bed, towards the hatchway, where he stopped, and cocked his ear to listen for any movement. He didn’t hear any, and that bothered him more than hearing movement. The station always to this point, had been one of motion. People going off shift for sleep, or on shift to do preventative maintenance, or handle small problems as they cropped up. This absolute silence bothered him a lot. Roels, Salila, I need to find out what’s happened to them. He girded himself mentally, then slowly pushed into the corridor, quietly rebounding off the opposite wall with his feet and slowly using the handholds to move towards Roels’s cube.

He moved slowly and as quietly as he could manage. He kept an eye on his shadow, and on the mirrors in the corner of the right angle turns in the corridor. He wanted to avoid Kim and Ingers totally if possible. Another turn and a slow, controlled glide brought him to the corridor that housed Roels’s cube. Debris floated loosely in the corridor like a small cloud, around the entrance. Small articles like paper clips and sheets of paper, broken plastic, and a few blobs of liquid had to be brushed from his path as he moved to the entrance. Looking into Roels’ cube was more of the same.

The World’s Eye View – 18

“Friend Ingers, Think of the lady. How does this look to the lady?”, Kim said quietly. Thompson saw Ingers go from stressed to focused in a moment. There was no indecision as he pushed towards Vyhovsky. What the hell?! Was that some kind of pyscho trigger? Thompson shouted, “Koll!” just as the Vyhovsky raised a boot to kick Ingers. Ingers, unable to change direction in zero-g, took the full brunt of the kick. Vyhovsky, since he wasn’t anchored either, moved back towards the wall, then rotated ‘up’ as his handhold kept him from going straight back from the momentum transfer. Ingers growled in rage. Now that he had been struck, all semblence of rational humanity disappeared in a feral snarl. He bunched his legs as he landed against the table, then pushed hard, arrowing at Vyhovsky. The Ukranian saw him coming and bent at the waist like a jackknfe, trying to get his feet aimed towards the oncoming Ingers, but was hit high in the chest as his legs slid under Ingers body.

Ingers grabbed Vyhovsky’s arm, and used it as an anchor to start trip-hammer blows to Eugeni’s neck and face, trying to stun him. Vyhovsky let go of the hand hold and brought his elbow down, smashing at Ingers collar bone. The shot glanced off the back of Ingers shoulder as he hunched close and brought his legs up, scissoring around Vyhovsky’s waist. The two men rolled slowly through the air, as tight punches were blocked. Ingers managed to set himself and squeeze hard with his legs, getting a gasping groan from Vyhovsky as he drew a ragged breath against the pressure. He jabbed at Ingers eyes, and missed as Ingers swept up a hand, guiding them past then ramming his forehead into Vyhovsky’s nose. Vyhoscky ducked sideways and took a glancing blow on the cheek.

Thompson was paralyzed. He couldn’t get himself to move. It was like an awful nightmare made real, and the thought kept him frozen next to the wall as the two men fought. The viciousness was beyond any hot-tempered brawl. Both men were doing their best to kill the other. That much was easily clear. There was a moan of terror from Salila, who clutched at Roels, trying to hide herself against him. Roels himself was white-faced, and Thompson thought he probably looked the same as the Belgian.

We’re all dead, we’re all dead. The whole thing is dead. The fighting will kill us all. Vyhovsky kept us going, and now Ingers is blown that chain all to hell and gone. What’s gonna happen to us? Thompson ducked as a loose piece of equipment rotated past him. Roels caught the laptop and let it float next to him. His hand reached down to clasp Salila’s as they stared like deer at the fight. Thompson started to gather himself, then stopped as he saw Kim move back towards the exit, and grabbed a handhold to stop himself in the hatch. Thompson wasn’t certain if that was to keep Roels and Saalila from leaving, or giving Kim the option to leave if he felt threatened by the rolling combat.

The two men bounced into the ceiling. Vyhovsky planted his feet and launched himself off the ceiling at the table. Ingers felt the push and rolled sideways, the momentum turning Vyhovsky towards the table. The men impacted solidly. Thompson saw Vyhovsky’s neck hit the edge of the table. The magnetic holdfasts held, and he saw the neck roll back as momentum continued. There was a sickening crack like rotten wood. Vyhovsky’s body jerked spasmodically once, then went limp in Ingers grip. Ingers hit the body twice hard. He seemed to realize the Ukrainian wasn’t fighting back any more. His arms grabbed Vyhovsky’s shoulders as reason came back into his eyes.

Ingers stared at the corpse, like a child who’d broken his best toy. He shook the body gently, and said, “Eugeni?” He shook it again, a little harder. The head flopped back and forth unnaturally as he did. A bit of bloody froth whispered from the lungs across Vyhovsky’s bluish lips. “Eugeni!”, Ingers shouted, then he began crying, and shaking his head. “No no no no no nonononono…Eugeni!” Ingers let go of the body, which cartwheeled slowly away in the zero-g, to ricochet from a wall, back towards the center of the room. Ingers was beside himself, arms hugging his waist as he cried and vomited. Salila and Roels both looked in shock. Neither moved. They were like statues, frozen in place as the world moved around them. Kim was the first to move, launching himself towards Vyhovsky, and intercepting the body near the table. The vomit slowly splattered against the wall, near half of it rebounding in random bits, in random directions.

He gently slowed the momentum, then placed a bare hand over the carotid artery, feeling for a pulse. With the features turning blue from oxygen deprivation, Thompson felt certain his friend was dead. Kim confirmed it a moment later. “There is no pulse, he’s gone.” Kim turned to Roels and Salila. “We mus pull together, and focus. This cannot be allowed to destroy our chances for going home. We need an outlet for our emotions, so that this can never happen again. A, ‘democratic’ way to air difficulties. Ingers.” Kim turned towards the Swede. Ingers looked up through red-rimmed eyes. He looked like a lost child. “Ingers”, Kim said again quietly. “We don’t blame you for this. And you musn’t blame yourself. It was a tragedy waiting to happen, and you were it’s victim.”

“BULLSHIT!”, yelled someone, and Thompson found to his surprise it was him. Kim looked over, eyes narrowed as he held Ingers shoulders. “You set that up. You set up Ingers and Vyhovsky’s fight. Maybe Roels and Salila couldn’t see it but I did!” Kim stared calmly at Thompson. “This is not the time for accusations. We’ve lost someone, and we need to purge ourselves of this if we want to survive. We cannot let it hang over our heads and poison our community.” Thompson felt himself give a strangled laugh. “Poisoned? This whole thing was poisoned when you started talking about ‘democratic systems!  We had a working command, we were doing okay, and suddenly you need a ‘democratic system’ for everyone to use?”, Thompson spat venomously. “Give me a fucking break,”

World’s Eye View – 15

The six crowded back into the control room. “I was doing what Mr. Ingers said to do, and I got a signal!”, Slaila shouted excitedly. “I left it on the channel and turned on the main channel and called you!” Her excitement made her glow in Thompson’s eyes. Oh my god she’s beautiful! Roels, you lucky, lucky bastard! “It was just a buzzing sound, someone’s voice, but it is a signal.” Vyhovsky and Ingers moved to the scanner. Ingers sat down and began to check the system, punching filters to scrub out white noise, and lowering the threshold to compensate for the weak signal. “Koll, what do you think it might be?”, Vyhovsky queried him. “Most likely some HAM operator. We should have been getting military traffic, but nothing’s come through. I can check the antennas. Why didn’t any of you look at them?” Vyhovsky grimaced. “It slipped through the cracks. You think with how important it is…”, He grumbled. Kim’s voice sliced through their chat. “It’s because he didn’t want us to go back home!” Kim floated back from the knot around the scanner.

Don’t you all see it? If we can’t listen, we can’t find out the … status of the world. We don’t know that it’s safe. We don’t know if it’s poisoned beyond saving. He keeps it all to himself like a bloated spider in a web!” Kim was shouting at the end, and Thompson, was alarmed at how changed his friend looked. Kim had lost weight, and looked gaunt. His burly frame had melted back to a hungry lankiness that reminded Thompson of a starving coyote. Ingers glanced at Vyhovsky, then at Kim, then at Vyhovsky again. “What friend Kim is saying, is this true?”, Ingers asked him. Vyhovsky looked at Ingers, and Thompson felt a chill that had nothing to do with the air. “No, it is not true. Why would I hide something so obvious?”

Why did no one look at the antennas?”, Ingers asked him again. “Because it was missed. We had many things to take care of, and that was one that fell out of sight. An oversight, that is simply all it was.” Vyhovsky looked fierce. His position as leader was being questioned directly, and even though Thompson did the same thing, forgetting about the antennas, he still felt doubt creep into his mind. “Hey, how about we talk later, Salilia did Ingers..”, Thomson started to ask, and Kim cut him off. “We will talk about it now! This is important, we need to know why he hid it from us!”

I didn’t hide anything!”, Vyhovsky roared. Everyone seemed to float back involuntarily from him. Kim’s really pushing his buttons. Maybe he forgot. Hell, we all forgot, even Kim. “I forget. We all forget the antennas. Why didn’t you remember, Myung? Huh? You forget too!” Vyhovsky’s accent thickened as his anger did the same. Thompson watched the red creep up his neck and sufuse his cheeks and forehead almost crimson in the artificial lighting. Kim floated back, and then pushed to one side, just behind Ingers. “You made certain we wouldn’t ask, by continuously making drills, and work when we didn’t need to. You used Friend Ingers illness to further your ends. Using him to control all of us up here!”

HEY!”, Thompson yelled as loudly as he could, startling the two men. He saw Roels and Salila flinch from the sounds and reach for each other’s hand. “You forgot, Eugene, and you, Kim, you forgot too.” “DON’T!” He said loudly as Kim opened his mouth. “Just drop it.” He watched Vyhovsky listen, his face still red, his hands clenching so tightly to the handhold that they had turned white. Did I just screw myself here? Are they both going to jump me for butting in? He watched with a great sense of relief as Vyhovsky’s hands slowly loosened on the handhold, and color returned to them. Kim glared at Vyhovsky, and at Thompson in undisguised hatred. Then the mask of hate disappeared behind a bland exterior as Kim in haled then exhaled slowly. “You are right, friend David. We are trying to survive. This could have been resolved more easily if we had followed the voting procedure”, Kim explained. His demeanor chnged completely, being closer to the old Kim. Thompson felt a glimmer of hope that things might resolve quielty.

Again with the voting?!”, Vyhovsky spat. “Is everything a vote?” He gestured to the people in the room. “Are they a vote?” He gestured at the scanner. “Is it a vote?”, he snarled at Kim. “We are not in a position to vote. Voting wastes time needed for repair, and maintenance.” He took a ragged breath. Thompson could hear his voice starting to rasp from all the angry shouting. “We no what we need to do, no voting needed to know the station needs maintenance. We need to hold on until we can find out what we need to do.” He looked up at the ceiling, then to the floor, and finally to Kim once more. “This hamster cage make us all crazy.” Kim gave Vyhovsky a strangled look, and Ingers looked back at him as if he’d heard something. Kim shook his head, and seemed to calm. “You are right, friend Eugeni, all this does change one, if they allow it to.”

Vyhovsky blinked in surprise at Kim’s statement, obviously expecting something more venomous. Thompson watched the two slowly wind down from the near-conflict. He looked carefully at Roels and Salila, watching their reactions. They are the ones who are going to be pushed the hardest in all this. By trying to stay out of the middle, they’re putting themselves square in it. Me and Eugeni on one, Ingers and Kim on the other. They’re the deciding factor regardless of how much they want to be left out. He looked back over to Vyhovsky, who was gliding to the exit. He looked hunched up, as if tired of the whole situation. Kim’s been riding hikm with little things ever since they started arguing about Ingers. How much has that taken out of each of them?

Thompson shrugged, then floated over towards Roels and Salila Shukla, who were at that moment getting food packs out of the storage. Thompson noticed neither ever tried to look around, but concentrated solely on procuring and readying the food. He bumped the table as he used it to brake his drift through the room, which startled both Roels and Salila. Thompson noted Ingers long, calculating glance towards the three of them before he left the galley. Kim waited as Ingers left then launched himself at the trio across the room. Thompson moved to the side to let Kim brake by bumping the table, as he did. He made certain that Kim landed to his right while keeping the others to his left, effectively blocking Kim from speaking directly to them.

We are needing to find a way to deal with our situation. I know small spats occur on all missions, but none really have had to deal with the same conditions as this. There must be an open way to air difficulties”, He stated as Thompson floated across the table to get himself and Kim a food pack. He pulled one out, checked the title, then gave it a slow push towards Kim, who caught it and nodded as he read the pack label. “This is a good one. Thank you, David”, Kim said with a tired smile. “It is your favorite. I swear, if you’d been the one doing the ordering that would be all we’d have in the storage locker”, Thompson teased him. Kim’s face twisted angrily for a moment, then he slapped his hand down on the table and pulled himself to one of the ergo chairs, hooking his feet into it. “You, are right”, he said with a forced smile.