Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back Up

The mediboard was not designed to be gentle, nor was it supposed to be smart. It was supposed to fix a person as quickly as possible and then load the next one up. Repeat until power or supplies were depleted. Around two AM ship time, Alex’s timer popped. He was done.

The mediboard was also providing Alex with significant amounts of pain management. Once his leg skin was done and the nanite gel had retracted, it stopped providing that. It was the most thorough wake up call he had ever experienced as he sat up at the waist like Frankenstein's monster, grunting in pain in the dark.

Everything hurt. New nerves were sensitive to even the lightest touch and his legs bouncing around in the privacy shroud was just short of agonizing. He shoved it back down and righted himself, floating there over the mediboard half naked and holding on to the rail to keep from flying into a wall.

“You’d think it would have a warning on it.” Alex mumbled to himself, shook his head and sighed, pushing off towards the soft glow of the door controls. His hand slid over the glassy panel, door to the passageway sliding open silently. Poking his head out into the dim red light, he looked back towards the engine room. Carbon’s cabin was back that direction, as was what passed for a mess and an airlock. He checked the other way, his own cabin door just a few meters away across the passageway.

He paused to consider actually getting into bed in zero gravity. It was a little more complex than a sleeping bag glued to a table, but that was always what it reminded Alex of. He pushed himself back into the infirmary towards the medicine pack. The screen lit up and he approached and he dialed in an analgesic with sleep aid. A few moments later a tube with two pills inside clicked into the tray.

Crushed between his teeth, the liquid in the pills was warm and flavorless. They dialed the doses in low on the ship, he’d get six hours of sleep at most. It would do well enough to keep him on ship time.

The empty tube found it’s way into the recycler slot and Alex shoved his way down the passageway to his cabin, swiped the door open and pulled himself in. The lights were on automatic and it was exactly as he remembered it. He flipped the bed down and latched it in to place. Just as disheveled as he had left it.

He tossed his shirt into the laundry canister, turned the light off, slipped into bed and zipped it up. It was as uncomfortable as he had imagined, but the drugs were starting to take the edge off already.

Alex couldn’t have been asleep for more than a few seconds when he heard someone say his name. They sounded really far away. Maybe they were underwater. Maybe he was underwater. No, that was insane, he was in space. They were underwater. That’s really unfortunate. They kept saying his name, so they couldn’t be too bad off. He would do something about that when he got up.

The voice got louder, resolved into Carbon’s voice. Whatever she was on about, it sounded urgent. Despite his better judgement, he started to focus on what she was saying. He caught his name again and she said something quietly in the sibilant tones of her own language. He recognized the sounds, but not what they meant. He should probably see what’s going on.

Alex clawed his way out of the stupor of sleep. His eyes creaked open and there she was, shaking him, eyes wide and the cabin lit from the passageway. It was day out there already? His brain slowly kicked up a gear before he managed to form something like a word. “Yeh?”

Carbon’s face softened, eyes relaxed back down to their normal size. “You did not tell me the mediboard had released you.”

“Yeh, jus now.” He thought to look at the clock. Just after seven AM ship time. The sleep aid was working better than he had expected and he struggled against it. “While ago. Took stuff to sleep.”

“I was wor- concerned when I did not find you in the medical bay.” She let go of his shoulder and leaned back with a ragged sigh.

“Sorry. Didn’t think about that.”

“It is not something that should come up again. I will be in the engine room, when you rise I could use your assistance.” She patted his shoulder and pushed off the deck towards the door, closing it behind her. Darkness filled the room again.

Alex lay there for a few minutes, working through the fog of the drugs. He unzipped his bed, leaned across the small cabin and plucked his tablet out of its charger. Even through the haze, his fingers were light across the slick surface, digging up the Lexicon and setting it up for a translation.

He scrolled through hundreds of phrases, in their natural written form listed next to their phonetic pronunciation. The translations themselves did not appear because people had a tendency to pick what they wanted or expected to hear. A finger stabbed at the screen and flicked one of the base phrases up to the translation pane.

Emotional syntax came next. Then modifiers, for who was speaking, who they were speaking to and how polite they were being. locations and modifiers for locations. All tossed over to the translation pane.

He poked them around into the appropriate order and hit the translate button. The icon spun as it worked out the best choice, Alex hunched expectantly over the glowing screen in the dark of his cabin.

Alex didn’t do anything for a few moments after it popped up, just sat and stared at the translation. He backed the translation pane up a step, rechecked his work and translated it again. Same as before.

(pleading, mercy) Please, please do not leave me alone out here.

He closed the program, returned the tablet to its charger and sat in the darkness, lips pressed together tightly as he fought a tightness in his throat. He dressed in the standard issue jumpsuit and departed his cabin, pushing down the passageway towards the engineering section.

The room was huge, a cathedral compared to the rest of the ship. It was a mess, too. The slug that had hit passed almost directly between the two waverider drives. The two massive access plates that faced each other were blackened and warped. Everything seemed to be covered in beads of material that had been sprayed into the room when it struck. How she had survived that, he wasn’t sure.

The hole in the ceiling had been filled with quickweld and many larger pieces of debris had been attached to the ceiling and walls with that as well. The hole in the floor was still open, the rail slug stopped by the third layer of armor protecting the reactor.

Carbon was around the outside of the starboard engine, the one that was being used for parts, hammering on something. She had braced herself between the wall and the upper drive mount and was beating the hell out of a long pry bar jammed into the guts of the drive. Alex stopped himself and pushed up off the deck towards her.

“You are up sooner than I expe-” She stopped mid-word as Alex slipped his arms around her and squeezed gently.

“I won’t.”

5 comments:

  1. I'm slammed at work (thus forgoing my usual nitpicking) but I'd like you to know that I sat and stared at my screen for a few minutes after I read this. I think it was part joy and part cringe. I love the gesture, but I have a bad feeling Alex is going to regret it.

    Nice work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Little things.....The little things that you focus on, even just Alex's tossing his shirt into the hamper or the recycling of the tube. It makes him seem more believable. Despite the situation they are in, he are still going about as if everything is the same. It does not feel like fear has really taken over for him, but there at the end, you are letting Carbon show a bit of fear. Nice little touches.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @J. A. Platt: Wow. I feel a fair bit accomplished at that, thank you. Let's just say that Alex has a wide variety of experiences in his future.

    As always, looking forward to some nitpicking.

    @Jonathan: Thanks! It's always been the little things that make something believable for me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ok, *rubs hands together* let's get to the nitpicking!

    The mediboard was not designed to be gentle, nor was it supposed to be smart. 'Nor' doesn't fit the tone of the following sentences, it could be shortened to, 'The mediboard was not designed to be gentle, or smart.'

    The mediboard was also providing Alex with significant amounts of pain management. 'was also providing' could be shortened to 'also provided' because the next sentence describes it being turned off.

    First, I love the Frankenstein reference. Second: It was the most thorough wake up call he had ever experienced as he sat up at the waist like Frankenstein's monster, grunting in pain in the dark. This could be two sentences or have an 'and' in place of 'as' to improve the flow.

    I like that he is with it enough (despite the pain and surprise) to check the hall before he floats over to his room.

    Here: The lights were on automatic and it was exactly as he remembered it. He flipped the bed down and latched it in to place. Just as disheveled as he had left it. things are the same as before twice. You could cut the first or the second mention.

    I like the detail that Carbon's eyes change size with worry. And the complicated translation method he uses seems very realistic.

    This: The slug that had hit... could be revised to 'the slug had...', it's already mentioned as hitting them later in the description of the engine room.

    Alex stopped himself and pushed up off the deck towards her. He stopped himself from doing what? I got the impression he was stationary at this point.

    Whew. That probably should have gone in an email and my only excuse is that I just came off editing a manuscript and am in full red pen mode.

    And just to reiterate, I really like the ending.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't think I've stated this plainly, but I really appreciate the time you take to do the nitpicking. My skills are rusty at best and having someone who clearly knows their way around the written word take a red pen to it is huge for me.

    That said, edited version has been created and edited...

    I'm glad you liked the ending. I was kind of sweating it, I didn't know if I should have kept going or left it at the translation.

    ReplyDelete