Tia

This story is short and was hard to write because it is so much an attempt by me to deal through words with a currently ongoing situation.  Be forwarned it’s emotional.

 

TIA

The monitor next to the blue sheeted hospital bed beeped quietly. It measured its occupant’s heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and every fifteen minutes blood pressure. The figure in the bed was stocky and round faced. The thin bed sheets outlined an equally stocky body that seemed shriveled and shrunken. A hand, yellowed with jaundice reached out and upward as the man shook his grey-maned head slowly back and forth while drool slid from the left side of his head to pool and soak into the sheets tucked around his formerly thick neck.

Beside the bed, a slightly younger man with a small bit of black in his silver hair reached out slowly to grasp the uplifted hand. His freckled fingers wrapped the pale mottled ones, holding them still as the withered figure in the bed futilely attempted to free his hand.

“Easy dad, I’m here.” The voice seemed to calm the man. He released a soft moaning sigh as his eyes wobbled behind the closed lids. “I’m here. I’m here.” Karl Thorson raised his head, and looked are the artificial cheery bare white room, then back to his father, who was in the final stages of dementia.

He’s being taken by inches in front of me, and I can’t help him at all. He’s not been dad for a year now. Mom’s a wreck, I’m sick of this whole thing. God, please let him die. He’s hurting so much…he’s

“He’s not hurting. He’s dreaming.” the words, spoken right next to his ear had him jumping up and spinning around to face the intruder. The man…woman after another glance, peered back up at him with a faint lopsided smile. Her hair was dyed a grey purple atop her round head and short rotund body encased in green hospital scrubs. Her name, ‘Tia’ was on the white card pinned to her left shirt pocket.

She toddled past Karl to peer at the old man. She clucked her tongue as she arranged the bedding and smoothed it out while the man groaned softly. She laid her hand on his forehead, and he calmed at once. His eyes continued their restless dance behind closed lids but there was a softer movement now.

“You’re the one taking care of him? Thank you. I know it’s rough like this, and I can’t thank you enough for all the kindness you and the other staff have shown him.” She waved her hand between them as if gently pushing away the praise, and chuckled softly.

“Yeah, I’m doing my best. I’m Tia, by the way. Everyone calls me that.” She turned and peered at the old man again. “He’s in the final stage. Two, maybe three days. Then the body will shut down.”

“How can you be so certain? The doctors said it could be weeks, even months before the body turns off. With dementia there’s no way to tell” Karl said firmly, his eyes sharpening with anger. “What’s your degree in?”

“I’ve seen a lot of patients like your dad. There’s a lot of small clues, or ‘tells’, just like in poker. The body always gives itself away in situations like this” Tia went on calmly. Her confident manner slowly dampened Karl’s budding irritation. “I learned that a while ago when I first started this job.”

Karl turned back towards his father, then slowly settled back onto the small rolling stool still next to the bed. Ms Tia didn’t move away from the bed, and continued to rest her hand on the old man’s head. Once Karl was seated, she removed her hand and took a step back. Karl nodded at her and turned back to his dad.

“This damned dementia is killing him, and killing us too. We keep hoping for one last good day to say goodbye, but it doesn’t work that way. He’s just going to…” Tia interrupted him.

“You’re saying good bye all the time. You know what’s happening, and you’re getting to understand and make peace with him and his passing.”

Karl spun on the chair and angrily faced Tia. “You’re telling me this is a fucking goodbye? Just what kind of new age crap are you peddling? Get out! Get out and stay away from my father!” Karl shouted as he stood up, hands balled in angry fists as he stared at the stocky woman. How dare she tell me this is a goodbye. It’s not even close! It’s a living death and it’s robbing any chance of dignity for my dad!

He strode towards the door. I’ll get someone to take her out of here! Fraking bitch!

“He’s not in pain. He can’t remember it. If you look at it from another angle, you’ve got a chance to deal with his passing. A car wreck just takes him. No last words, no time, no chance to say something or clear the air. He’s just gone.”

Karl thrust his hand out at Tia, then swept it towards his father.

“It’s a damn sight better than this! This is a living death! Where’s the dignity in dying this way!?”

“Well,” Tia said calmly. “How is being torn in pieces dignified? How is the body’s natural function of evacuating its bowels dignified. Death is not dignified. It’s just death. The flesh quits working. Dementia allows you to come to grips with loss while they’re still alive. You get to say goodbye and they can hear it.”

Karl ground his teeth so hard the enamel chipped with a series of small pops.

“He would never remember it!” The intensity in his voice seemed to get through to Tia, and she fell silent and watched Karl like a bird watching a hungry viper. Karl stepped closer to Tia, body leaning towards her as he held his anger barely in check. Tia started to take a step back, then shifted her feet, planting herself firmly in place next to Karl’s father.

“You’re afraid. It got him, and you’re afraid it will get you too.”

Karl ducked his head as Tia hit his fear squarely. He raised it to stare angrily at her as she nodded to herself.

“Yeah, I’m afraid. I hate what it’ll do to my family when it happens.” He clenched and unclenched his hands agitatedly. “I wish I could have five minutes with it in a small room…just me, it, and a baseball bat.”

Now she did take a step back, but not from fear. This was an assessing glance, and Karl felt suddenly stripped bare. Tia held her gaze on Karl for what seemed like minutes, then said, “Deal, I’ll see you when you get diagnosed.”

Karl opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Tia seemed to shimmer and fade. A small heat shimmer floated above his father, who moaned then smiled softly at something only he could see. He gazed, open-mouthed at where Tia had been, then pulled out his cellphone, and dialed son Pearson’s number. What the hell just happened? He took a deep shaky breath, then another. Pearson answered on the second ring.

“Hey Pearson, it’s Dad. I’m gonna need my bat back…”

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.

Ordinary writing? NOT!

As a perennially amateur writer, I dream of writing a story that will entertain billions of people.  That brings me to today’s point.

All authors didn’t take up writing to be ordinary at it.  We all chose this medium as a chance to create something larger than ourselves and gift it to the world.  We’ve all told ourselves that if we enjoy the story, that’s all that matters.  This is true.  Sometimes the best stories are the ones we write for ourselves and no one else.  But there’s that little voice saying how great it would be to have our efforts, and skill at writing, recognized far beyond our own word processor.

We didn’t start writing to be ordinary at it.  We chose this as a way to be EXTRAORDINARY.  To leave a legacy.  How far that legacy goes has a lot to do with luck as much as skill.  That may be discouraging, but realize the only way to know is to keep writing.

World’s Eye View – 24

They could see Ingers shadow float to the edge of the hatch, and hover. Thompson and Roels looked to each other, then Roels nodded, and floated to the hatchway. He poked his head out the hatch and turned to look at Ingers. “Koll, how are you? Is there something I can help you with?”, Thompson heard Roels say.

I”, Ingers started. “I would like to apologize to Salila.”

“Ingers. Koll”, Roels replied. He started to say something else, then shut his mouth. He looked back at Salila, who shook her head.

“Say it from the doorway”, came her shaky reply. Roels nodded and backed up, wincing as his broken ribs shifted. Ingers bulk filled the hatchway. His eyes were haunted.

“I am s…sorry for my actions”, he said slowly, then he turned and floated back down the tube, towards the galley. Thompson looked over to Salila, who was pale. Her hands shook. She hugged herself to make the shaking stop. Roels moved to her and she clung to him like a drowning sailor clings to a life preserver. Roels looked to Thompson. He nodded and moved to the hatch, and gazed down the tubes left and right, checking to see if Ingers had decided to hover just around the corner. The corner mirrors showed clear corridors both ways. Thompson turned back to Roels. “He’s gone for now. I need to go to. I’m going to draft Kim to help me out, for maintenance until those ribs heal. Then you and I will start work on the docking ring.”

Roels looked at Salila, nestled in his arms, then to Thompson.

“Why didn’t you tell Kim about the docking rings?”

“I don’t know”, Thompson answered. “I think I was worried what Ingers would do if I mentioned it.”

Roels shivered. “I don’t see why, it might snap him out of what’s going on. Kim’s brainwashed him. I think you’d want him to hear it. Jar his mind. Maybe knock Kim’s control loose.”

“I don’t know if Kim’s really to blame”, Thompson said thoughtfully. “Did you look at him when Ingers started to line up on me? It was like he was scared of what might happen too.” Thompson stopped =, then started talking again. “It reminds me of a story my dad told me about some neighbors. The family had a Doberman. Beautiful dog, dad said, but spooky. It wouldn’t bark, it just stared at things. Always watching. One night a kid tried to break in and steal the TV while they were gone. The dog killed the kid. The neighbors came home, and found the kid all over the living room. They called the cops, then took the dog and got it euthanized. When my dad asked why, the guy told him that the dog looked at him like he was next on the list. So he took the dog and got it put down.”

Roels said nothing, and just stared vacantly. “That’s a messed-up story, David. If you wanted to scare me, you just did.” Roels hugged Salila tighter, and winced as her arms snuck around his waist, shifting his broken ribs. He paled and gasped, then hugged Salila tighter as she moved, keeping her tight against him. “Give me two days to rest, and I’ll start pulling shifts again. Just wrap my ribs tight before you try to stuff me in that suit. Getting in that thing is going to hurt, I’m certain.” Thompson nodded, then floated back to the hatch again. He looked once more at the corner mirrors for the intersections, and floated out into the tube, then propelled himslef down the corridor handhold by handhold. Why didn’t I tell Kim? That is a really good question. If Ingers went nuts, then there would be two of us to try and take him. God, if you’re watching, and you have some time, do you think you could bless us with a little luck? We’re gonna need some soon, I think.

Kim held the fitting in place as Thompson finished tightening down the blocking plate. With the Ammonia becoming less available, Kim, and Ingers had decided to cut back the ammonia flow to one hundred five percent of needed use. The idea was to limit the active panels and block the flow of the ammonia so that a reserve for emergencies could be maintained. The plates were easily jury rigged in the shop, pieces of metal being cut and drilled in a few hours. Seals made from a silicone completed the project, and now, they’d finished up the last of the three plugs. Through it all, both Thompson and Kim had worked in silence, talking only when needing to issue directions or ask questions.

Move the cap right, there”, Thompson said, then wtached as Kim gave the cap a half turn with the extension wrench.

“I felt the lands squeeze. It’s in place”, Kim gasped.

“Good”, was Thompson’s only reply. The two men carefully stowed all their tools in carrying nets, and clips on their suits. The walk back to the airlock was silent as each man scanned the panels for any damage they might have missed going out. Ingers was waiting at the airlock. Thompson thought he might not have moved at all since they left for the job. Ingers pulled Kim in first and helped him divest of the suit. Thompson slowly pulled his helmet off, then stowed it back in the storage netting. Once Ingers had Kim unsuited to the waist, he turned his attention to Thompson’s carrying belt, moving tools to a magnetic strip. Once empty the belt and harness came off, then the suit was slowly unzipped, and hung, ready for use. The internal cooling suit was stripped off, then moved to a sonic water shower, to clean out the salts and oils from the inside of the suit.

After cleaning, it was hung and the airlock closed, and the air pumped out of the airlock to boil off any excess liquid from the wash. Kim tapped Ingers on the shoulder.

“Go rest and help Ms Salila cycle through the channels again. See if she has found any other signals.” Ingers nodded, then propelled himself down the corridor. Kim sighed. “There is so much magnetic interference. I think many of the staellites NASA used for communication have been disabled. Salila gets occasional ‘blips’ of radio, but nothing solid. I am wondering if the antenna is worse off than we thought.” Thompson nodded, but didn’t answer. He didn’t trust himself to. He realized that whether or not Kim had intended to control Ingers, Ingers was more a bomb, than a gun. Kim was increasingly polite and even-voiced around Ingers. The feeling was of something building up, just like before Ingers and Vyhovsky fought.

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.

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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.”

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.

Background

Background in a book is the street the character walks down, the car she drives, the clothes he wears, the people met on a daily walk.  Everything that the character interacts with is background if it’s not another primary character.  It is this description and interaction that makes background, if you’ll pardon the wordplay, the backbone of the story.

Characters are just like a mannequin in a store window without background.  There’s no one to interact with, nothing to see, nothing to hear, smell, or sense in any way that can help create a meaningful reaction or experience.

The statement, “Jim walked to the store” gives us a destination but nothing else.  What kind of store, how far is it, why is he going there, is this outside or inside, like in a tunnel?  We have no idea.  There’s just this thing called Jim moving from wherever he was to a store, and that’s it.

But if you write, ‘Jim moved slowly, fearfully down the dank dimly lit alleyway.  His small lanky frame covered by a green plastic poncho against the light rain, he shivered with cold and dread as he placed each foot carefully, doing his best to avoid the heaps of loose trash and the sleeping homeless buried inside them.”

That gives us a much more colorful view of the environment and Jim.  He’s small, skinny, and is wearing a green poncho.  It’s raining, an alleyway that’s filled with piles of litter that homeless people are in the middle of, trying to keep warm and dry.

Nothing is made about smell, but we have a much clearer understanding of Jim and his environment, and some about how he feels being there.  The background creates the canvas that Jim can react in and to.  The detail, while not as complete as it could be, really conveys the setting and ramps up emotions that the reader can begin to identify with.

Don’t be afraid of detail, but at the same time realize there’s a balance to the background and the characters.  If we go on for pages about the background, the character’s story gets lost.  Not enough background, and the story is blurred and nonsensical.  Let the background detail come out, and use it to help develop the story.

World’s Eye View – 17

What happened”, Kim asked in a flat, angry voice. Thompson noticed Kim was looking at Ingers with a bit of worry. He turned back to Roels, scowling ferociously. “What did you do to him?” Roels straightened up, and his hand found Salila’s. “He grabbed her, and wouldn’t let go when she asked him to. Then he started to try and drag her out of the room.” Roels glared at Ingers, who was now passively watching Kim. Kime sighed and pinched his nose as he turned to face Ingers. “You should not do such things, friend Ingers. It means you’re not in control of yourself.” Kim’s voice was like a schoolteacher chewing out a truant student. Ingers ducked his head guiltily as Kim continued. “This is intolerable. Apologize to them both, friend Ingers. Immediately.”

Ingers shivered and turned to benoit and Salila. “I am sorry for my actions. I am still not fully well. I do apologize.” The words came from his voice sounding like a large child, completely at odds with his previous self. Thompson watched the change. Ingers turned into a scared kid all because Kim said he was unhappy? That’s kind of creepy. “Hey, so what do we do now?”, Thompson said to no one in particular. Roels, Kim, and Salila turned their gazes to Thompson. Oh crud, now what? “What we do now, is hold a meeting, and air this problem”, Kim stated firmly. “We must talk amongst ourselves, and decide what can be done as a course of action.” “You do that, I will say Ingers will be working exclusively with me, where I can keep an eye on him.” Everyone turned to see Vyhovsky holding himself braced in the hatchway as he listened to the discussion.

Kim glared at Vyhovsky as the fragile goodwill well and truly shattered. Thompson could only watch, and wait, as a sense of impending change started to build. Vyhovsky looked at him, nodding slightly. Thompson knew he was looking for support in this latest political maneuver. Roels and Salila floated away from the table and tried to disappear along one wall. Ingers moved to block the exit, and the two huddled miserably back against the wall, reluctant witnesses to whatever might happen. Kim shook his head slowly. “Friend Eugeni, surely you must know that this mission is no longer valid. The world is gone, our families gone, and we have nothing but our desire to return home so that we may mourn in the ashes, and yet you decide that we must survive here, until all supplies run out, just so that the precious mission is completed?”

Vyhovsky snorted, barely holding in a bitter laugh. “You think this is all just for mission? You are fool. The only thing I try to make certain is that we can go home. To go home we need survive to go home. To survie, we need station in good order. That means we all must work.” He stared at Ingers, who returned the stare with a blank one of his own. Thompson’s view of Ingers didn’t allow him to see the man’s face, but he could tell that the big Swede’s body was taut, ready to move. God, don’t let it happen. Please, don’t let it happen. We can’t get in a fight over this. We need each other. Please, help us. Please help. Help me, God, please.

Vyhovsky remained in the doorway, watching Ingers like a man watches a coiled rattlesnake. “This is wrong, Kim. You know it’s wrong. Let it go and we’ll work things out”, Thompson said quietly. Both Kim and Vyhovsky turned their heads his direction, but neither took their attention off of one another. Thompson could feel his words bounce off of both of them like rain off a roof. Neither weas willing to listen. Neither was willing to give up their argument. “Friend, David”, Kim said neutrally, “This is something that must be changed. Our situation is beyond all human experience. So in that, we must ALL have a say. Even those who don’t want to.” Kim’s eyes flicked for a moment over Salila and Benoit, then returned to stare back at Vyhovsky.

Vyhovsky smiled, and Thompson could see that it never reached his eyes. He was reminded of old films where the villain would smile just before killing somone. The sense of building violence was thickening the air, oppressive and ominous. “We do not need your citizen committee, we do not need any committee. We will continue as we are, and we will survive until we have a way to escape this place.” “Ingers, you will meet with me in fifteen minutes. You and I will do systems check on hydroponics, and on computers systems. Then we will…” “No”, Ingers said. Vyhovsky blinked, then straightened holding himself rigid like the soldier he was. “Mr. Ingers. You misunderstand. That was not a request. That is an order as mission leader.”

Ingers looked over at Vyhovsky, biting his lip in indecision. Clearly he was unwilling to force the issue further. Thompson missed the signal between the Swede and Kim, but was certain there had been one to make Ingers stand against Vyhovsky’s directions. He watched Kim, who was in turn watching Ingers. Kim nodded, then said, “Friend Ingers said ‘no’. Is that something you do not understand?”, Kim asked with menace. “Or, friend Eugeni”. Kim growled, “Are you threatening violence to get your way?”

Vyhovsky gazed at Kim in disgust. “I am mission leader, our situation has not changed. We are still on this station. I will do what is necessary to make us all survive. There is no further discussion.” He looked back over to Ingers, his eyes hardening. “Koll, you will come with me”, he said in a voice that brooked no disobedience, “now.”

Ingers gaze swept back and forth from Kim to Vyhovsky, then back, and back again rapidly. Thompson could see his resolve starting to fray badly.