I’m at a bit of a loss for what to call this chapter. It may actually be only the first part. I’m … writing something serially is weird, and full of … It requires a certain Semper Gumbi attitude. Which is no doubt good for me.
Anyway, Mrs. Dave’s schedule has changed, yet again. It’s … getting … look, I’m a patient man (shaddap) and I like to think I’m capable of rolling with the punches. More or less. I’m starting to get a little tired of this, but Uncle Sugar has a bit stronger pull than I do. So be it. I did manage to knock out a chapter, last night, as I have the littles all day, as evidence I offer that I’m just now getting this up. My apologies on the timing. Let me know what you think.
Can a body sustain so much shock the mind becomes more or less immune. If so, I hadn’t reached it. By the time my vision cleared, I’d been floating in a sea of pure sensation and white noise for what felt like hours. It couldn’t have been more than seconds, but I didn’t care.
“I’m getting tired of that.” My vision was a blur of color.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Corama sounded purely miserable. Given she’d shot me, I wasn’t feeling terribly charitable. At the same time, I didn’t want her to suffer.
“Oh. Yeah, don’t sweat that. I’ve been shot before,” I said by way of explanation. It’s not that I’m blasé about it, just that the novelty wears off, and if I don’t end up with more than bruises, it’s more of an inconvenience than anything else. So maybe I am getting blasé about getting shot. Huh.
“What? Oh, yes. I’m sorry about that, too.” Her freckled, worried, scared face swam into view, and I realized she was looking up at me. Since the last I’d had coherent thought, I’d fallen down against a medcouch, this was a touch concerning.
I then registered the sound beating on my back brain. The emergency klaxon had shifted to one far more familiar: the Imperial Navy General Quarters wail sounded a recurring rising arpeggio ending with a brutal dissonant chord. I’d wondered about that after my first GQ drill after I’d joined the Assault Corps. Come to find out, the man who’d designed the damn thing had been an amateur composer, in addition to a blood good combat admiral, and had opinions. It was effective, but I once again wished he’d kept his ideas to himself.
The GQ alarm my well have been what brought me around. After years in the AC fighting a war, it could still pull me out of a dead sleep. I knew veterans who used it as a personal alarm. It seemed like a terrible idea to me. But the GQ alarm meant a vessel was under attack. Why would they use it for a prison?
“Could- could you come down,” the doctor asked, uncharacteristically humble. A tear trickled down her face. “Please?”
I looked down. To see my feet floating a good foot off the decking.
“Well, that’s new.”
She shuddered in response. I realized there was a point where you just didn’t care much, anymore. I was mostly annoyed, and trying hard to figure out how to get down. I reflexively tried to put my hands in my pockets. Pockets I then realized I wasn’t actually sure I had. Instead, I spun myself around as though I floated in microgravity instead of very near a planet’s surface. My hand was tethered to the medcouch, as I learned when I pulled it toward my face to figure out why. And bounced my face off the couch padding.
I freely admit I flailed in midair, swearing sulphurously. Dr. Corama giggled, a sound I’d not have bet she’d ever make. After a bare second she choked it off. In her defense, her laughter had contained a distinct note of hysteria.
None of which did anything to help me. Still biting off curses, I glared at the strands of my suit still sunk into the housing of the medcouch. Now that I was coming down from the potent charge the suit had poured into me, I could feel the heat coming off of them. And that at the back of my neck. I really hoped that didn’t mean what I thought it did.
“Um,” I said. Intelligently. “Hold on.” I finally engage my brain and started working my rusty micro-G skills. A moment of effort gave me an actual grip on the medcouch. Another brought my feet to the deck. Holding myself there, I tugged at the suit tendrils linking me to the prison. Another muttered curse, and they retracted, almost reluctantly. As soon as I was detached from the medcouch, the GQ alarm cut off, reverting back to the — thankfully — somewhat quieter emergency klaxon.
I took a deep breath and released my grip on the medcouch. Much to my consternation, I immediately rose back up into the air.
“Strangest damn thing, Doc. It doesn’t feel exactly like micro-G, but I don’t feel like I’m hanging from something either. Nor standing on anything.”
Her mouth opened and closed without making a sound. That seemed fair, really.
“Gimme another sec, please.” Best to be polite to the twitchy lady with the gun. I closed my eyes and did the first thing I could think of. I thought real hard. I willed myself down. And as crazy as it sounds, I was awfully gratified to feel deck plating under my feet after a moment. “This just gets weirder by the tick, dunnit?”
I could tell I was stressed. Genuine crazy times and strong drink always brought out the Belt-rat of my childhood.
I nodded, and then knelt across the still prone Chief from Dr. Corama. I reached out a hand toward my friend, then froze. Two things caught my attention. The Physician Commander’s twitch with the still loaded gun, and more importantly, the way Ferrer’s hair stood on end as my hand neared his skin.
“Great. Doc, I’m guessing I probably shouldn’t be manhandling the chief. Are you up for it?” When she didn’t respond, her eyes flicking her gaze back and forth between Ferrer and the gun in her hands, I made a silent bet. “Commander, your patient requires your aid. Are you prepared to give it?”
I’d learned a little about command presence and command voice, and I used it then. Her head snapped up, nostrils flaring in sudden anger.
“Get spaced, you crazy, dead bastard!”
I grinned. Exactly the reaction I’d hoped for. Despair would get her and my friend killed, but anger I could work with.
“Very good, Doc.” The muscles along her jaw bunched, and I went on quickly. “All of this must be because of me, and Warden Jaem is going to have to work double-quick to cover it up.” I hoped the good doctor was as quick as she was competent.
She proved it by glancing at Crind’s crumpled form. I nodded.
“Which means I go into a hole somewhere, probably back in stasis, like you found me-“
“While Chief Ferrer and I disappear,” she growled “Probably permanently.”
I nodded again.
“And if I can’t lift him because-“ I waved a hand at myself, and she nodded.
“Then I have to. Damnit,” she sighed, “and damn you.”
I nodded in agreement.
“I may already be there, Doc. I may already be there.”