Farlost, Episode 38
"I'm fine, First!" Arnel smiled and nodded across the tank at Ron Taggart. "As fine as any of us, yeah, I think so too," Arnel said. He looked over at Vice President Burkov, where he floated close to another security officer, pulled off emergency repair detail by Montagne herself to escort the man. They were two tanks down from C&C now, this one last tank, a couple of airlocks and a couple of turns away from the med tank. Arnel gave an exaggerated shrug. "Well, there's nothing much to do right now, and you are hearing voices." he continued. Taggart looked away. "Maybe Doc Sanders can help you find out where those voices are coming from," he murmured again. Ron looked back, his face alive with relief and gratitude. The smile faltered. "Just wish I didn't feel like I was being locked up." He looked hurt, Arnel realized. "Don't think of it like that, Ron. We're not sending you to Sanders because we're afraid you'll, well..." Arnel cast a look back at Burkov. "We're worried about you." Taggart set his jaw and nodded. Arnel gauged the approaching airlock and tried to resist his next question. Taggart snorted. "Don't have to be psychic to read your mind. Nah, I don't know who's comin'. They're not wearing people we knew to talk to me like the lights did. I think they meant well too? But they were ass hats. The people comin' now? I like 'em. I know they're comin' to help." Arnel didn't have to ask anything else, as they neared the airlock. He was relieved Ron couldn't read his mind all the time, like he had when he'd tuned in to his memories of his Ina. As for the rest? Who was coming to help? He'd have to wait. He trusted Ron Taggart. The man had proven himself, as far as Arnel was concerned. Crazy and weird were relative terms out here. He was starting to come to grips with that. He looked over his shoulder to where the other security officer, Jon Pruett -impossibly young, blond haired and serious looking all at once- hovered, just a few feet behind Burkov. Pruett was watching Burkov with hard eyes. Arnel felt sure the diligence was driven by more than Commander's orders: Burkov looked unhinged, with pale skin, red eyes and a visual tremble. "Hope he's not hearing any voices," Taggart said, low. Arnel bit back his agreement. This was still a Haskam Vice President they were talking about. He couldn't wipe off the grin that followed, as he thought again about how much his attitudes had shifted, in light of the calamity that had struck his crew. Surviving sure changed your world view. He looked back on all his run-ins with the Commander, both Commanders -Ed Dwyer, rest his soul, and Commander Montagne. He'd never really trusted Montagne when Dwyer brought her on board. Before serving with Dwyer, Villanueva hadn't gotten on with any of the servicemen who'd left the military for the top tier posts Haskam offered. He'd never been able to get rid of his suspicion they'd rather shoot at a problem than resolve it. Then the shit hit the fan. Hit Dwyer too, and left the crew in Montagne's hands. And she'd stayed calm, made the decisions she needed to fast enough to get Beacham's light show up and running, and save most of the souls on board during unimaginable chaos. And, much to his surprise, he found he liked the chaos, too. A little voice in the back of his head warned him writing tickets for corporate infractions wasn't going to feel quite right after he put all this behind him. Another little voice wondered how the hell they could ever put all this behind them. He played whack-a-mole with the little voices as they closed on the airlock. He grabbed a hand-hold and quickly turned himself, bleeding off speed. He felt the vibrations of the engines through his grip, surprised for a moment by their strength. The ship was still gaining speed, lending a little weight to his body, on top of the little that the Thorn far below was lashing at them. Just enough that if he stood still he'd slowly sink back down towards the airlock -towards what was now 'down' again. It reminded him of the airplanes Haskam still used to simulate zero g for the new recruits. The 'vomit comets' that would climb high in the sky, then fall fast, negating much of the effects of gravity. Near the bottom of that fall, gravity would creep back. That was the most dangerous time, when he and the other seasoned spacers would watch out for raw recruits who'd forgotten gravity had only been temporarily suspended, lest they end up with bruised body parts and bruised egos when the plane landed again. he thought back to what Beacham and the Betty's engineer, Gruber, had said, about how the Thorn was siccing more and more gravity on them to draw them down. He shuddered, squeezing the handgrip tight and willing the engines, never designed to escape orbit, to do more than their jobs, to get Six and her crew to The Betty McKenna before... Burkov made an involuntary sound of surprise and Arnel looked back. "Need a hand, Mister Vice Pres-" he called out to the flailing man, but he managed to stop himself at another hand-hold with a minimum of self injury. Burkov's eyes darted over to him, then to Pruett. "I can stop myself thank you very much. And I don't need to see a doctor!" Taggart had the airlock open, and another crewman was flying through, back the way'd they'd come. He wore elbow-length gloves and a tank of emergency pressure sealant on his back. Arnel traded nods with the man. "Feels weird, seeing other folks in the halls again, now," Taggart said, and moved tot he side to let the others pass through. Arnel's nose wrinkled, Ron's words reminding him of the smell of burnt rubber the air scrubbers hadn't managed to remove yet. It's true, he thought, as he waved Burkov and Pruett through the airlock. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Vice President," Arnel began again, speaking quietly as the man passed. "Command Montagne and I-" Burkov's white knuckles grabbed onto the frame of the airlock, and he glared up at Arnel, muscles bulging in his neck with the strain. "Montagne and you are deciding my fate, and I get no say! People like me and Goss, we built Haskam! Now some ancient law says you get to be in charge, because people like us picked you and paid you?" Arnel kept the sternness from his face. There it was, the arrogance of the rich. He felt something stir in his gut. He remembered the squalor of his village in the Philippines as a child, and his determination to remake himself, become someone who had the money and power to care for his loved ones. Remembered his promise to use that power to put an end to the rampant, unchecked abuses and corruption of the public officials selling of his people's heritage -- to people just like Burkov. Cut to twenty years later, and he'd forgotten those hopes, and moved to the USA, leaving the corruption behind. Leaving the village and all the people who'd raised him as a boy, behind. Amazing what a near-death experience reminded you of, he thought sourly. "Move along, Mr. Vice President," Arnel said coldly. Burkov's face paled again, and he looked away, immediately cowed. Arnel wasn't sorry. Pruett had stopped on the other side of the lock, watching the VP and his first officer. So fresh-faced and lean in his black work suit with the security department icon on the shoulder, except Arnel could see the twin tensions in his face. Who do you side with when a command officer who'd been grooming and training you for months was suddenly on the other side of an argument from one of the minor deities of the corporation that controlled your future? It's always hard, when mommy and daddy fight, Arnel thought and it brought a chuckle to his throat. "Don't worry, Pruett. Just do your job, and forget about who your escorting." He gently clapped the man on the security-badged shoulder. "Just do what's right. The senior officers will be here to take any heat when we get back home." Pruett's forehead lines eased. "Yes, sir," he said, expelling a breath, then immediately looked stricken, ducked and hurried through. Arnel followed, chuckling, and cycled the airlock closed behind him. He stared at the amber flashing light on the panel beside the airlock. They weren't out of this yet. They didn't even understand what it was they were trying to escape from, yet. And then there was the matter of getting home, as he had just promised the green officer they would. He followed the others along the curve of the airlock assemblies connecting the stacked tanks. He wondered why the life and death struggle was coming so easy to him. And why the return to the way things were, to the corporate track, filled him with far more dread. He shook his head to clear it, filing the concern away, knowing they weren't there yet. They were far from normal. He smiled. "You're fine, Arnel," he told himself. "As fine as any of us." He kicked off to catch up with Taggart and the others.