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.”

A way to get a handle on characters

Every character has a story that they are the star of.  It doesn’t matter if they’re just window dressing or faceless thugs, they all have a story if you think about it.  I don’t always recommend going so far as to chart out each and every one, but I’m sure there are some authors that do.  As a way of getting a handle on characters, I’m offering up a quick four question psychology test that can help give you a little depth and insight into what makes a character tick.

It’s very simple to do, just four questions.  For each question put yourself in the character and answer how they would, or think that they would.  What each question means will be at the end.

Question 1 – What is your favorite color?  Think of three words or short phrases on how this color makes you feel.  (Write them down on a card or piece of paper)

Question 2 – What is your favorite animal?  Think of three words or phrases on how this animal makes you feel?  (Write them down on a card or piece of paper)

Question 3 – You are in a white room with no doors, windows, or way to exit.  Think of three words or phrases on how this situation makes you feel. (Write them down on a card or piece of paper)

Question 4 – You are standing on an open plain and can see as far as you want in any direction.  Think of three words or phrases on how this makes you feel.  (Write them down on a card or piece of paper.

Now before I reveal what each answer means, I’ll give you my example of a character.  This is Charlie ‘Skid’ Moore from the short story ‘Skid Style’.

Question 1 – Blue – open, breezy, mellow

Question 2 – Cheetah – fast, focused, no one can outrun me!

Question 3 – white room – lonely, I hate this place!, Let me go!

Question 4 – Open plain – I can run!, so much to explore, gotta pace myself

Now you can see Charlie’s answers to each.  Now let’s look at what each question is supposed to represent

Question 1 – This is supposedly how others view you.  So in Charlie’s case people seem to see him as a laid-back easy going guy.

Question 2 – This is supposedly how you see yourself.  Charlie is proud of his speed, and is focused on his goal.

Question 3 – This supposedly is about what your attitude is towards death.  Hmm, well…, Charlie hates it.  ’nuff said.

Question 4 – This is supposedly about what your attitude towards life is. Another interesting response here.  Charlie loves to run, and sees life as a constant exploration, but he also understands the need to maintain a steady pace through life.

 

That’s the test in a nutshell, and with it we can see Skid’s motivation, a little about his personality, and how he approaches life, and reacts to death.  How does your character(s) answer these questions?  They may surprise you.

World’s Eye View – 23

The screaming started and he was out the hatch, and caroming off the wall towards it. A few quick turns and he arrived at Roels cube. The screaming had faded to wracking sobs as he grabbed the handhold at the hatchway, prepared to launch himself at Ingers. He pulled up short as he saw Roels, clutching a shivering, naked, woman against him. As Salila clutched at his shoulders, Roels looked up, and saw him. “Roels? Is she…”, he swallowed drily as his eyes followed Salila’s supple curves. He shook his head. Get it out of your head, asshole. She’s been raped! “Is she all right?”, he finished lamely. “Better than I”, Roels said. I think I have broken ribs. It hurts to take a breath.”

How are we gonna keep maintenance up? I don’t trust Kim, and Ingers is great at it, but he’s not Ingers, he’s something seriously messed up.” Thompson watched Roels haunted look harden with anger as he discussed maintenance. “After this, travesty, should we even care about maintenance? I think maybe we should just let things fall apart. This is hell, and there is no way out.” Thompson looked at Roels. Everyone’s talking about how there’s no way off the station, but Vyhovsky figured out the docking ring. I gotta take a chance. It ought to pull us together. Oh slag that, David you idiot. The wound’s too deep. Still, it might be the only way off the hamster cage. I gotta ask though, why did Vyhovsky keep it from us? It doesn’t make sense. That would have brought us all together on a common goal. We’d be out of here and home.

Roels, there is a way off”, he said quietly. Roels blinked, and stared at him. “A way off. Why do you tell me now?”, Roels asked, suspicion thick in his voice. “Vyhovsky figured it out. He told me about it just before he died”, Thompson said quietly. “The docking ring has the Xian-Xi locked in place, and a software virus locked the ring closed. Vyhovsky was taking the ring apart a little at a time. Once the ring’s disassembled, the craft will float free, and it can be powered up to go home.”

Roels looked at Salila, and closed his eyes, holding her close against him. She struggled a moment, then sobbed harder as she clutched at Roels shoulders. Roels arms went protectively around her as he gazed up at Thompson. “You’re not just saying this to trick us? Disassembling the docking ring will work? What about traps?” Thompson grimaced. “I’m guessing there aren’t any. Even the most paranoid engineer has to draw the line between function, and blowing you sky-high.” Roels gave a bitter chuckle, and wrapped his arms tighter around Salila. Salila sobbing slowed as she was held, and her head came up. “I would rather they were trapped. I could die then, and escape my shame.” The bitterness and hatred poured out in the words, making Thompson shiver. “Get healthy Roels, I have to go, vote. Kim’s wanting to set priorities.”

Set priorities? Help me get there, and we’ll all vote. I’ve had enough of this travesty. We need to work on the Xian-Xi and the docking collars. I have had enough of this place.” Thompson nodded. “We all have.”

**

Thompson floated in the galley at the far side, as Kim, and Ingers conducted the meeting. Kim frowned at Roels making it to the meeting. Thompson thought he could see Kim trying to figure out the best way to control the meeting. Ingers, staring vacant-eyed at Salila, moved to sit beside her. Roels sat close, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. Ingers reached a hand in her direction, then lowered it back to his side.

Now, let me bring this first full complement meeting to order. We have a number of things to discuss, and prioritize. First, there is the regular maintenance, then temperature control, and finally, consumables.” Thompson mentally muted out Kim’s voice as he studied Ingers. The big Swede seemed lost in himself. Thompson couldn’t decide if this was due to being close to Salila, or guilt from previous actions. Is the real Ingers still in there? He said it was like things were flipping on and off, and he didn’t have control. Did Kim screw with his mind somehow while he took care of him? If he did , what and how did he do it? Can it be fixed? Who’s gonna fix it? Kim never would. I don’t know how, and Roels, I don’t know about Roels. Whatever this situation is, our job is to get home now that we’re on the same page.

Thompson raised his hand. Kim stopped his talk to stare directly at him. “What is it David?”, he said, sounding like a schoolteacher lecturing a troublesome student. “There’s another priority. Getting home. We need to get home and off this station. Put that in the list.” When Kim hesitated, Thompson raised his voice. “Put it on, and let’s vote on our priorities.” Ingers eyes flicked to Thompson as he spoke, and flexed his hands, clenching and unclenching them. Oh shit. Did I push my luck too much? He watched Ingers float over to the left of Kim, giving him a clear line of travel to Thompson. “I do agree that we should arrange our priorities, friend David”, Kim said quietly, his own eyes on Ingers movements. Thompson noted that Kim seemed to pale, as if he too, feared Ingers unpredictable reactions. What if Kim didn’t do anything? What if the whole thing is Ingers? Thompson tried to turn the thought over, but the vote was called for. Kim set two priority lists. Maintenance came up on ‘what needed to be done immediately’, and going home went to the top of the ‘overall priority’ list.

Roels watched Thompson with increasing agitation as Kim droned on, arguing ranks in the priorities. Finally, when Kim finished, he nodded with his head for Thompson to follow him. Ingers was staring hard at Salila, who sandwiched herself between the two men. They reached Roels’ cube, where all three spread out in the room, staring at the one entry hatch.