World’s Eye View – 27

It’s been a long time and finally I get a chance to come up for air and post the next piece of World’s Eye View.

 

Man that’s thin. How do you keep people thinking about survival and not about home? Answer:Keep them too busy to have time. Eugeni did keep us hopping like fleas on a hotplate. He was putting in twice the hours we were. Yeah I think he was trying to figure out the bombs when he died. So how do we figure them out? “I want to put a change of operations to a vote”, Thompson said. He stared at Kim. According to the rules, I something was offered up, everyone got to have a say. Kim had kept things in his favor by not giving anyone time. It grated, but neither Roels, or Thompson wanted to face Ingers if he got set off. That came under the ‘Really Bad Idea’ column in captial letters. “Very well, friend, David. What is your proposal?” Kim finally asked. “I vote we put someone on the Xian-Xi docking rings full time. That would give a person time and resources with the computers to figure it out”, Thompson replied.

I will take up the task”, Kim said gravely. “I was thinking Roels should be the one to do it”, Thompson countered. “We can vote on it right now. We’re all here”, he finished smugly. Kim glared at him. Not something you can win this time. If you don’t vote, then this all falls apart. Then we’re all finished. The vote went Roels, Shukla, and himself voting for the idea, Kim and Ingers against it. Kim took the defeat with ill grace, and left after the three raised their hands. “You think he’s going to try something to get back at that maneuver?”, Roels asked him as they drifted down the tube towards Salila’s cube. “I don’t know. It’s best to think a little paranoid, so, yeah, I’m half-expecting something. Probably Ingers”, Thompson said. God I hope he just lets it go. The voting’s working, so far. I don’t like it, but we’re starting to settle into a workable setup. So maybe it does have something going for it.

The next few days were tense, with Kim answering questions with a surly reply, and the voting becoming more and more complaint sessions. Fortunately, the complaints stayed in the sessions, and no one tried to push things outside the sessions. Roels set himself to digging into the system software, slowly working through the code, trying to locate what controlled the docking rings and the charges. Thompson, Ingers, and Kim worked on clearing the debris from around the smashed panels section, then detached the damaged section, cannibalizing the pieces for use as spare parts for the surviving sections. Through it all, Thompson could feel the two men watching his every move. He’d been watched by them for a while now, but this was different. He could almost feel Ingers gaze, like a predator sizing up a potential victim. He spent a few long evenings in the machine shop making a reinforcing patch for the damaged hull. He started twice, and had to stop as his mind wasn’t in making the proper cuts.

What’s different this time about them watching me? They did it before. What’s diferent this time? Thompson snapped his fingers. Kim. Kim’s the difference. Ingers was just shadowing people, nothing really threatening, he was hanging back. Now, it feels directed, like Kim might be asking Ingers to watch. If he did, does this mean he’s pissed at the fast one I pulled? He looked at the badly formed patch. Maybe I should make some protection. He straightened an edge of the patch, and took the long piece, grinding the edge down to a semi-sharp edge with a thin point. He got out the high-speed duct tape, wrapping the unsharpened end to make a grip. Once finished, he got a small magnet, placing it in his pocket.

When he reached his cube, he looked around, and decide on hiding the knife under the shelf, using the magnet to anchor the knife. God forgive me, this is really bad if I’m paranoid enough to make a weapon. What does that say about me? Am I paranoid, or unbalanced. I don’t think so. Roels, I wonder how Roels and Salila are doing? His schedule said that both Roels and Salila would be on duty, with Ingers. Roels would be sifting through the system code, while Salila would be scanning for radio signals. Ingers would be doing the daily visuals on the panels, and checking the reserve for leaks. That doesn’t mean he will. If I’m unstable, he’s downright spooky. I’m gonna keep it close, just in case. I can hide it under the jumpsuit by folding the top down.

He shifted the knife to a spot with easy hand reach next to his hammock-net, then settled into an uncomfortable sleep, waking at intervals through the night. The next day was more fitting for the patch. The job would have been much easier with the 3-D printer, but the powders to make spares had long run out, so the fallback was knocking the patch out by hand, which was much more labor-intensive. Compunding this was none of them had any practical experience as cutters or welders. Thompson volunteered for the job, figuring that both Ingers and Kim would relax if he was in one place for a day or two.

The welding and cutting finally finished after twenty hours of work. The patch fit over the dented area with some rough overlap. It took Kim, Ingers, and Thompson to hold the plate in the right position to begin welding. “Friend David, how long do you believe this welding will take? The air recycler in my suit is beeping”, Ingers said. “Once we get the first few welds in place to stabilize it, I can handle it myself. I’m thinking about a half hour for that. Weird. My recycler’s fine. Dial shows another four hours before it might need replacing. “Friend David, my recycler is running low, I’ll need to go in soon.” Both of them, with the same problem? “I hear you, can you hold on for a half-hour? With you and Ingers helping we can weld hold spots down.” “I understand, friend David”, Kim replied. Thompson got the first weld in place, then drifted up and to his right, snagging the plate Ingers and Kim were centering. He worked on the spot weld as the station orbited out of the sun and into the dark.

Possession is 9/10

Here is the start of ‘Possession is 9/10’.  It was a fun little story to write.

 

The day invaded my personal space with a gradual lightening of the comforting darkness. Next came the tortuous ringing of the bells on the alarm clock. That vicious little thing has it in for me. I tried to burrow deeper into the warm coverings and ignore the cutesy venomous ringing that threatened to drive a spike in my ears. Ten agonizing seconds later I finally started my day –- by bringing my clenched fist down on the offending noisemaker. Irritated strength overpowered the small mechanical brass contraption and the satisfying ‘crunch’ of flattening metal gave way to irritation. I was going to have to get another alarm.

Blessed sleep ran whimpering from the growing brightness and I sat up in bed, stretching my arms towards the ceiling and trying to keep them between me and the way too cheerful sunlight streaming in through the blue lace curtains on the floor-to-ceiling patio window.

Each morning can be an adventure. This morning I wake up after crunching the alarm, stretch, try to cover my eyes, and then turn and put my feet on the floor, only to find that the floor isn’t there. The bed I’m in hangs in mid-air with no visible means of support, and my head barely avoiding a collision with the ceiling as my senses start to tell me things are very wrong.

The night stand drops from the side of the bed, falling to the floor with a splintering crash. My feet dangle off the edge and the bed tilts dangerously as reality and gravity grab me by the throat and give me a solid shake as a good morning greeting. The bed falls stopping just above the floor and gently settles. My feet touch the floorboards and flinch away. The wood was like ice. I look down and the floor is ice –- at least a quarter-inch thick over the reddish cherrywood. My breath hangs in the air as puffs of fog from my lips. Just another day of possession for yours truly.

You heard right. Possession. As in something not ready to pass on hides inside a person hoping that it can coerce whom it possesses into satisfying a last lingering regret or desire before it rejoins the choir invisible and moves on to its reward or whatever place restless spirits go. Fortunately for me, I’m not the one who’s the possessed.

That would be my ferret, Imp. She’s what is called a ‘Siamese coated’. Her limbs are all a chocolate brown with a light tan body and a bandit mask. It’s striking actually. Not as striking as her chatter when possessed. If you’ve ever heard a child try to squeak out curse words while trying to control an out-of-control object, you have a good idea of what it’s like for Imp.

She has full control of her body, but the spirit can talk, usually screaming for Imp to slow down so they can talk to me and we can agree on a deal for their lingering business. After a negotiation of some mutually beneficial deal, we get about the business. Hey, stuff like this isn’t for free. I have to make a living too. Otherwise I couldn’t keep Imp in the style she’s accustomed to.

Like today, she’s sleeping on my bed, and came wide awake as it settled back to the floor. Her furry body launched off the bed onto the floor without a care in the world.

Me, I shiver in real cold and check the thermometer on the wall by the patio door. It says -10C and that I’m welcome would I like to hear the forecast for today? I decline with ill grace. I’m never happy unless caffeinated. That being said, it was obvious that a spirit was in desperate straits to use Imp.

Obvious, you ask? Easy to answer. If you note I said the bed was floating in the air. I didn’t suspend it from strings as a slight of hand trick. That’s expensive and more effort than I want to put out for anything actually.

To answer the second unspoken question I know you’re itching to ask; Why not me? Because I’ve no aptitude for psychic phenomena. Why a ferret has that kind of sensitivity is one of those things in the universe that no one has any idea. It just is. Imp was being her usual self, running to the food dish, finding it empty. Then realizing she hasn’t done her morning ablutions, and runs for her toilet. Once that’s done it’s back to the food dish, then to me to ask if I could please hurry up and feed her since she’s hungry thanks-ever-so-much?

I get there eventually, which is never fast enough, and get a scoop of ferret food for Imp. Then I can go about the real necessities, coffee for a wake-up, and eggs with bacon for me. Then I can get to the spirit in question. Said spirit was trying to talk around ferret crunchies and failing. Imp paid no attention to the funny noises while I waited patiently for her to finish eating and let the spirit communicate.

When Imp came over, I nodded at her, and she lay down in front of me, looking for all the world like a cat that had just claimed that spot for its own. I leaned over so the spirit could get a better look at me. Ferrets are notoriously near-sighted.

Hello, I’m Kat, that’s Imp. What can we do for you?”

Imp shifted lazily as the spirit tried to get a word in edgewise while she cleaned her belly fur.

I’m…ahh…Chuck Wuerley.” The spirit tried to gag as Imp started cleaning her butt. “Gah! Oh my god this is…ack! What are you doing?! stop! Stop!” His discussion was put on hold while Imp finished her morning ritual. She looked back up at me and the spirit recovered enough control to resume talking.

What is this? There’s this weird taste in my mouth.”

That would be Imp’s breakfast and some hair from her grooming. You’re in a ferret, by the way, not a person.”

The ferret continued to gaze up at me in what I suppose was stunned silence or ferrety satisfaction of a full belly and clean fur. You can never tell with spirits. Or ferrets. Some are okay with an animal possession. A few were ecstatic. Most are shocked and dismayed. Chuck seemed like the latter.

A ferret? What the hell is a ferret?! I rolled my eyes and walked over to my bathroom. I had a mirror on the counter next to the sink, and picked it up. I walked back out to the still motionless ferret, and plunked the mirror down in front of her.

It’s a rat. I’m in a rat. Why am I in a rat?”

Imp is a ferret, not a rat,” I said indignantly. “Get your mammals straight, doofus.” I waggled a finger right in front of Imp’s nose as I spoke. Imp took this as an invitation to a play fight. She leapt up, dooking and shook her head side to side as she rapidly backed under the bed while the protesting Chuck tried to scream at Imp to stand still.

Whoa! Stop! Stop! Dammit you little ass-wipe-fuzzy-stretch-rat stop! I need to talk the person. Stop dammit!”

Imp scrambled out from under the bed and pounced on my fingers, biting playfully at them as I flipped her over and tickled her belly.

Waah..ha..hahahahaha! Stop! It tickles! Haaahahahah!”

Imp dook’d happily and flipped back over. She scrambled back under the bed, ran out, then ran back under again as I moved toward her. Chuck was pleading with me to stop and listen to him after another five minutes. I stopped playing with Imp, who made a few lunges and back-aways from me, then seeing playtime was over, noodled over to my feet and lay on her side.

Okay Chuck. What’s your situation besides being dead and all. What do you need to happen to go to the great beyond?”

I want you to find my kid.”

Find your child? What happened? Did she run away? Or…?”

No no no no…nothing like that. I want you to find my kid. My baby goat.”

I couldn’t help it. “Say…what?”

The Deep End – Chapter 1

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Way to go, man! Way. To. Go!”

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

Carny laughed, and opened the driver’s door.

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

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

“Wimp.”

“Guilty as charged.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dean shrugged, then looked over at Carny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cool! I’ll drive you…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carny chuckled and finished off the last potato wedge.

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

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

World’s Eye View – 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World’s Eye View – 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.

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 1 of 2

I decided this week to put up the alternate (and original) ending of ‘Rat Race’, a story that was accepted for the ‘Corporate Catharsis’ anthology by Paper Angel Press.  This story is much darker and dystopian than the accepted version.

The guards were at the gated entry. the two men in brown and black looked out over the restless swarm of business suits and blue jeans. Each person there in the misty morning carried a briefcase with The bright silver letters ‘HKI’ stenciled on both sides. What HKI stood for was cause of a constant debate online after work, as no one professed to know what exactly the letters represented.

Cameron Farver was there, two rows back. Cameron, or Cam for short, was inches below six feet, pounds over being considered slim, and with less hair than considered attractive. His bulldog-like face belied his gentle demeanor and polite method of speech. He was at once the epitome of the classic squat, sharp-eyed con-man or pawn shop operator, and an elegant refined maitre-de at the most posh and expensive restaurants.

This morning, despite the mist, Cameron had forgone his usual business attire of brown jacket and pants with a white shirt, for the more practical pair of dockers and a button collar blue shirt with black running shoes. He looked at his watch. Five minutes before gygthe gates opened. Because of his height, he couldn’t see higher than most people’s shoulders, so he didn’t know how large the crowd was. He could guess however, because of the way the crowd was pushing forward, squeezing against the gate. His heart sped up. There’d been times people had been trampled when the gate opened. He didn’t want to be one of them, and began using his elbows to open space around him. The quick jabs opened breathing room and calmed the unease he always got during the crush just before the gates opened.

Open they did with a blare of air horns. The gate dropped away as the workers charged ahead like racehorses leaping from the gates. Cameron was carried through by the initial surge. He managed to keep his feet under him as he was pushed through the gate and onto the HKI campus. People began to spread out, racing towards different locations.

Good morning employees, it is a wonderful day at HKI. At this moment there are fourteen thousand, eight hundred forty three jobs available in all departments.” The bright, cheerful voice blared over the loudspeakers as the swarm spread out. Cameron looked around him at the familiar surroundings.

The large hangars were to the south of the gate, maintenance and transport to the southwest. To the west were security and software, while northeast was research, production, and HKI headquarters. A few ran towards maintenance. This was the easiest job to get, with bare minimum pay and a lot of time running around cleaning up after the water cooler drones, who spilled drinks and dropped food while they hovered around the dispenser. Transport was an okay job. You got to drive small golf carts all over the place delivering parts to research and production. The trouble here was that there were a lot of golf carts and a lot of people walking around. Bump any one of them with a cart and you were back with the Cooler drones for the rest of the day.

Down at the hangars were where jobs like welders, riveters, and other assembly personnel resided. These were hard jobs with a lot of lifting and carrying, plus a lot of work holding tools to help build a product. They were part of production, but didn’t do anything more than get pieces and put them together.

Some sprinted off towards security, where you could get a good job, with decent credit pay for walking around and making sure nothing was getting stolen or broken during use. Software was another fairly easy job, with a lot of console typing and fixing software puzzles. That job Cameron hated. He’d done it once and found he had no aptitude for wither typing in a foreign language, nor solving conundrums in software.

Research was one of the primo jobs on the campus. A chance to do research to create new products, and develop these ideas into a product. The workers who were assigned to the winning project got a salary bonus for its creation and a ten second head start at a random auxiliary gate. literally, Research was the best place to get ahead. 4Cameron liked having ten seconds no one else had. It was THE chance to get a lead. There was a lot to choose from with that kind of time.

Another option was production, turning a design from research into a real thing for sale. This involved problem solving on how you’d get an object from an idea to a finished object. It was here people solved puzzles fitting pieces together to make a whole. Like research, a finished product garnered a salary bonus and a three second head start the next day. Not as exciting as ten seconds, but any early start was welcome.

Most of the crowd, which included Cameron, scrambled to the Northeast, towards headquarters. The cushiest jobs were there. An executive job wasn’t Cameron’s choice this time. Too many tried for them, and ended up water-cooler slackers for the rest of the day. Cam wanted a good job this time, one that would pay for the water, electric, and PlayStation charges that Andrea, the home help program said he was behind on. It was really hard for Cam to concentrate without his PlayBox. He felt his body getting twitchy and his mind was always more and more aching for the sonic high that the PlayBox emitted when he played online.

Good morning HKI employees, it is a wonderful productive day at HKI. There are seven hundred fifty-five jobs available in all departments. All director positions have been filled. There will be another job update in five minutes.”

Gaming was his life. He had to have more time. It was so hard to concentrate if he didn’t get time. He pushed his squat body faster, angling off from a gaggle of people running towards the second-tier jobs in management. Cameron was gasping for air by the time he’d gotten to the door. It was a brown rectangle in a featureless ivory wall. The door had stenciled in bright white lettering; ‘Employees Only beyond this point.’ Cameron gripped his briefcase tighter, twisting the doorknob and pulling the door open.

The door had no stop, and banged hard against the painted cinder block, adding more scrapes and streaked color to it. If he remembered right, this would shortcut into the research area, coming in opposite the main doorway that led to the job cubicles. The only trouble was he was currently trying to hack up a lung, and his legs were shaking. It was three floors up to research, and one huge production floor west from the exit. This was a secure area. He wasn’t supposed to be here. It was, however, the best shortcut to where he wanted to go.

The trick was to avoid security. The previous shift hadn’t finished yet. They would be relieved by the newcomers in a few minutes. It was a fortunate window he could use if he was careful. Cameron walked quickly and as silently as he could in his hard-soled shoes. The faint tapping of his shoes sounded like gunshots as he moved along the gray and yellow corridor.

A sudden bang startled him. He looked over his shoulder and gasped out a curse. It wasn’t security, it was Blondell Jasper. Blondell spotted Cameron at the same instant, and tucked his chin down against his pale rotund chest and pushed his massive body into a waddling charge towards Cam. Unlike Cameron, he was dressed code-monkey casual; bluejeans, a red t-shirt, and sneakers. Both the pants and shirt were a trifle undersized for his bulk. But Blondell was a full head taller, and much wider.

Cam didn’t wait, tucking his own head down and running as fast as he could. If security showed up, it was better to be in front and closest to the exit. He’d done a job in security, and they always, always walked the same route day in and day out. Deviating from the path or missing a checkpoint got you demoted to Slacker, and your paycheck revoked.

No money meant no PlayBox. No PlayBox meant no way to game, order food, clothing, pay energy bills, socialize, or game. It was solitary confinement until the next day and a new chance for a job. Cameron had been through a number of days like that as he had reached the age of job-holding. There was no breaking in period. You got in line, and ran for a job. It took a few tries to get an idea where to run. The jobs weren’t just for crossing the finish line, you had to FIND it. Jobs like the golf cart delivery were easy. Collect the right key and put it in the right lock, and the job was yours.

Security jobs required you find a clean uniform, put it on and then find a security guard whose shift was up. There was a little red light on top of their caps to help identify those who needed relief.

Just as Cam reached the yellow door on the yellow wall, with Blondell only twenty steps behind him, the door behind Blondell banged open a third time with security yelling ‘Halt!’ at his retreating back. Cam, threw the door open, stepped through and pulled it closed behind him in one smooth motion. He turned the lock just as Blondell started trying to pull the door open. Another shouted ‘Halt!’ vibrated through the metal door, and Cam heard Blondell curse. The heavy footsteps receded, followed by multiple footsteps rushing past the door. Cam heaved a sigh of relief. With Blondell occupied he could get on with his mission to find his job.

After listening for any footsteps, he turned his back to the door and faced the stairs. Listening for any noise, he slowly started up, ready to bolt if he was discovered. This was part of the test for this job. You had to get past the obstacles to claim the job. Risk versus reward. Cam didn’t know of any job like this one. He’d found it totally by accident, after he’d done seven straight shifts for security. “Good morning HKI employees, it is a wonderful morning. There are five unfilled management positions, eleven unfilled security positions, six unfilled manufacturing positions, fourteen unfilled maintenance positions, two unfilled research positions, one unfilled position…”

The Public System would announce the number of unfound jobs, and what department they were in. All except one. Every day there was always ‘one job unfilled’. Just that. No location. No other information. At first he thought it was just to keep the Water Cooler Slackers stirred up. It didn’t. No one seemed to care about the job, apparently because no one had ever found it. It was a small mystery that the Public System never explained. Most concluded it was just a glitch. Cameron wasn’t so certain. There wouldn’t be a fake unfilled job would there? The Public System was perfect after all. So the job had to be real, didn’t it?

Cam’s curiosity had gotten the better of him during the last day he tried for a security posting. He walked the halls diligently, making every check-in location on time. But, for all their diligence in covering the security stations, something seemed off. Cam began charting the circuits. There was one area that the circuits avoided. It was a nondescript location, far away from any of the secure rooms and manufacturing floor. The closest thing of any consequence were three vending machines and a small square table on the Northern edge of the area in question. There were doors, with the usual admonition of ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ in white block letters on brown doors set in ivory-yellow walls.

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.