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Aftermath

05/27/11

  09:44:25 am, by Nic Wilson   , 4265 words  
Categories: Nexus

Aftermath

Friday Night Stories are written once a week, and updated on Friday. Recently, I've been doing serials, and this one, Nexus begins here. The most recent chapter is below.  

 

MedDiv was blindfolded, and pressed up against the back wall in his office. ?Have any final words, traitorous pig-dog-fucker?? I asked.

 

?Go to hell,? he sneared through a face that?s nearly all beard. I fired. A shower of red splashed from MedDiv?s chest, and he fell backwards, gasping. He lay still for a moment, and the room was quiet.

 

I helped him to his feet. ?Feel better, now?? he asked.

 

?Much.? I was grinning like a kid at the first birthday party he actually has friends, and not just relatives, at. ?That didn?t hurt too bad, did it??

 

?Your ketchup gun?? He removed his white coat and dropped it into the clothing chute. ?My pride more than anything. Though I might have a bruise in the morning.?

 

?Well, I?d say it?s only fair, since you violated doctor-patient confidentiality. And in all seriousness, you do that again, and you won?t get the quick clean death out an airlock; they?ll be finding pieces of you scattered around this ship for millennia.?

 

?Well I?d say all?s fair in love and war.?

 

?Which is why you?re single.? 

 

?Bit below the belt, wouldn?t you say? Now where?s the cake.?

 

?Oh, yeah. I decided the cake was for my supporters. Not for you. So when I said there?d be cake? that was a lie.?

 

?You will not deny him my cake,? Haley said.

 

?I was just funning with him.?

 

?Still, though, I?ve been working hard to perfect my cakes. I?m very proud of this iteration. I call it 3.14159265.?

 

?That would be more appropriate if it were a pie.?

 

?It would. But I don?t enjoy baking pies. Also, the Nexus is not equipped with many pie-able filling materials. Regardless of what SciDiv contends.?

 

?I am full of pie-able filling materials,? he said. ?Also liquor; perhaps too much liquor.? He collapsed into MedDiv?s chair.

 

Sam had stayed back in our cabin. She said she wasn?t feeling well; she hadn?t been feeling well since HR?s wedding. Elle had been eyeballing me since I arrived without her. She was walking towards me, and stuck me to the spot with her eyes.

 

?I saw you at the wedding with Sam.? She stopped there, as if she expected it to be enough. ?I?ve been there. I know that conversation. And that look on your face. You don?t remember? On Vergara.? I stared blankly at her. ?Okay, now I?m a little hurt.?

 

?Oh, shit. Gene?s wedding.?

 

?Yeah. He was your second, at the time- which was why us dating was at least a little less unseemly. But I remember us, off to the side, dancing. Melancholy. The specifics weren?t important, but I remember for months a cloud hung over us after that. Because I couldn?t be sure about our future, so it was just that much harder to feel secure in our present.? She looked away from me, like she couldn?t bear to look in my eyes while she said it. ?After the honeymoon, Gene?s wife asked him to quit, and he did. I got promoted.?

 

?If I remember right, he tried to get his job back a couple months later-? 

 

?I don?t want to have that old fight again; I know you think you?re right- and I?m not sure you?re wrong. But it?s hard to see that level of devotion in someone else, and not feel like it?s something you wish you had.?

 

That hurt me. I made my voice quieter, but I still think it showed. ?I would have quit for you.?

 

?But you didn?t. After Dalaxia, when they reassigned you to the executive corps, you could have quit. We could have both quit, and found someplace else, some other life to live.?

 

?And ruin your career??

 

Her fists balled up, and I was surprised she didn?t hit me. ?I never asked you to sacrifice us for my career.?

 

?And you never asked me not to.? I put my hands around her balled fists; they tightened, then relaxed, and she laced her fingers through mine. ?This isn?t about blame; what happened to us happened.?

 

?I didn?t let that stop me. I hated you for a long time, because it was easier. But I was full of so much shit. I knew that the moment we started working together again on the steering committee. Because the construct of you that I?d poured so much anger into- was barely a shadow of who you were.?

 

She pulled her hands away from me. ?But I didn?t bring it up to talk about us. Sam?s special. And I don?t say that just because she?s an alien, or that rare breed of woman who will have sex with you. She?s been good for you. And you need to tread carefully; the last thing I want is to see either of you hurt.?

 

?Do you think I should marry her??

 

She was taken aback, and tried too late to hide it. Even when she did speak, it was measured, and slow. ?I think,? she said, ?you should do what will make you both happiest in the long run. I can?t speak to your state of mind- only to the fact that I?d been there, before. Maybe you?re different, now. Maybe Sam is. But I can?t tell you what to do; and I?m biased, too. Sometimes, love is compromising; sometimes, it isn?t, because the compromise in the long run would be more damaging.?

 

I tried to take hold of her hand again, and she pulled it away from me and continued. ?I love you. You?re not a moron- the majority of your public behavior to the contrary- so I?m pretty sure you?ve figured that out. But I?m not mooning over you, either. Maybe we end up together, maybe we don?t. If I meet somebody in the interim, I?m not going to wait for you.?

 

?I couldn?t-?

 

?Don?t. I would never ask you to do that to Sam. That has nothing to do with us. You and Sam are an entirely separate conversation. I just needed you to know that I?m still living my life- it?s not on hold for you.?

 

?I wouldn?t expect it to be.? I touched her neck with my fingertips; she closed her eyes and shivered. ?I love you, too; that?s why I want you to be happy.? I wanted to kiss her, desperately. I didn?t.

 

I walked away, out the doors and down the hall. That?s where I ran into NavDiv, heading in the opposite direction. ?Aw, man, did I miss the ketchuping??

 

?Yep.?

 

?Crappy AI asking asinine questions about navigational priorities,? he muttered.

 

?Whether or not we continue on your plotted shortcut through a star system that would effectively microwave the internal organs of the entire crew is not asinine,? Haley said in a clipped, perhaps even snippy tone.

 

?He?s just venting, Haley. Don?t take it personally. You mind giving us a moment??

 

?Technically, Captain, I?m never out of earshot, but if you would prefer to converse privately, I will step back, as I had with Lieutenant Templeton.?

 

?I appreciate it.? I turned back to NavDiv. ?We?ve known each other for a while, right??

 

?Since I bribed you to get posted on the Nexus.?  

 

?You bought me a beer. I?d hardly call it a bribe.?

 

?I bought eight rounds. Until we were both compulsively yodeling ?what do you do with a drunken sailor? from on top of the bar. It?s the first time I?ve ever been physically kicked out of a bar. Thrown, shoved, and once dropped- it was a second-story bar- never kicked. So the nearly year we?ve been on ship plus the prep-time going back to then.?

 

?Well, Elle just cornered me, to talk about HR?s wedding, and Sam, and a similar experience she had when we were together, years ago. They both wanted more: marriage, commitment, some kind of wood.?

                                                                                   

?Mahogany.?

 

?That?s the one.?

 

?Let me see if I?ve got this all straight: poor me, I?m in love with two beautiful- if under-nourished- women who are completely into me, and I have commitment anxiety and wah.?

 

?I?m not saying it isn?t a good problem to have- though they?re only under-nourished if Rubenesque is the medical ideal- which it isn?t. But I?m not really asking for help in choosing. I?m committed to Sam- that?s just the way that is. I?m just- I don?t even know. I don?t want to lose her. But I don?t want to compromise myself, either; if I did propose, maybe in six months I regret it, and resent her for doing something I don?t want to do, and maybe never will.?

 

?To thine own self be true. Oh, and on that note, I took your advice.?

?My advice??

 

?I started dating a pregnant woman.?

 

?Oh god.? 

 

?She?s not in a relationship- I was very thorough about checking that out. The last thing I need is some unhinged EngOff punching my clock while I?m trying to fly the ship. She?s not very far along- she?s really only starting to show, little Buddha belly, tigger old bitties. The only problem with pregnant bigness is it?s a little too firm, but honestly I?m in heaven. Because I?m not fighting myself. I?m not trying to be ?normal,? or what other people think I should be- or even what other people want from me.? 

 

?Sound-sounding advice. But what?s the temperature in your division? What are they thinking we should do, about the worm-gate??

 

?I think the NavDivers are torn. Most of us got onto this mission for two things: to see the galaxy and to tinker with the best damn spaceship money could build. Some of us are curious to see a worm-gate- and not just in the fleeting seconds we got when it crapped us out.?

 

?I guess the morals are hard to wrap our heads around. If we destroy the worm-gate, then we?re dealing a pretty heavy blow to the company. And fuck them. But there are real-world consequences, too; people are going to be laid off. Giving the finger to the company will reverberate. It?s the right thing to do- it?s just not an easy choice to stand up and take responsibility for.?

 

?But me, and honestly, I think most of us, we?re looking forward to what comes after. I mean, space is so big it?s practically infinite- but we were confined to this particular trajectory along the tiniest sliver of it. But after we fuck up the worm-gate, we?re free to go wherever, do whatever. It?s wild, exciting times. I think that?s where the Nav staff are focused. On tomorrow. After we?ve eaten our vegetables. There still any champagne at the party??

 

?Loads. Enjoy.?

 

?I?ll take that as an order, Captain.? He gave me half a salute, then went inside.   

 

I pinged SciDiv, who was still in his lab. I wanted to follow up on his people?s disposition- and I was avoiding going back to the cabin. The elevator down to SciDiv was either moving slower, or I was more impatient. He must have known I was coming, because he spoke as the doors to his lab opened. ?I followed your advice.?

 

?Wait- my advice??

 

He didn?t look up at me, just continued to stare into his microscope. ?I castrated the intern.?

 

?I?m certain I never advised you to castrate the intern.?

 

?Maybe it was a peyote hallucination. But it?s done.?

 

?Then why am I not looking at a stack of paperwork about severed balls? And also, why are you not in SecDiv custody??

 

?I did it chemically.?

 

I heaved a sigh of relief. ?With the chemosterilizer? That was just sugar water. Last month MedDiv went through your supplies and confiscated anything related to human experiments, and left sugar-substitutes in their place. We were worried you?d do something, well, like this, actually.?

 

He finally pulled himself away from the scope. He seemed to be genuinely sad. ?So his testicles aren?t going to shrivel up and drop off??

 

?Only if he?s got a really weird, new genetic disorder. But you did get to stab him in the balls. That has to count for something.?

 

?I suppose it does.?

 

?But you did also have to handle his balls.?

 

?And I handled them roughly.?

 

?Have you talked it through with your staff, what we?re doing next??

 

?The consensus, really, seems to be that the ship is turning around. Betrayal of his magnitude must be confronted. So the majority of my staff have resigned themselves to that course.?

 

?They do get a say.?

 

?Well, yes, and they have divided opinions, but these are men and women of science. They know the atmosphere and the variables. They?ve even consulted with PsychDiv staff. Consensus points us back towards the worm-gate. And give that, we have more than enough data from the planets and species we?ve interacted with thus far to keep us more than busy for the duration.?

 

?I guess that?s as good an answer as any. Anything else I can do for you while I?m here??

 

?Can I have my chemicals back??

 

?Your drugs, or the ones for human experimentation??

 

?Either.?

 

?No.?

 

?Oh,? he said, as I left.

 

I spent an hour or so walking around the ship. I pinged MedDiv several times, only to see his offices still filled with champagne drinkers. Eventually, the crowd trickled out, until the few remaining well-wishers were pushed out into the lobby. I returned to his office, to find him again with his nose stuck in a book. ?Just making the rounds,? I told him.

 

?I?m a little surprised you?re talking to me.?

 

?Why? If I wanted you gone, you?d be in the vacuum, or at least freeze-dried.?

 

?I suppose I should look at this as you reaching out an olive branch- though I suspect it?s an excuse for you to call me Dr. Sacktugger again.?

 

?We have been mulled changing your title officially to that.?

 

?And here I thought you?d be doing away with titles entirely. Hardly egalitarian. But I suppose you want to know what MedDiv want to do now. Ironically, the answer to that lies into why I?ve done what I have. The reason I opposed you had nothing to do with me. I left Earth because I wanted to. I understood the risks of what we were doing- and the cost. But there are members of my staff who weren?t so intelligent. They have families back on Earth. Friends. Returning was always a pipe dream. But I wanted them to be able to dream it a little longer.?

 

He took another swig from a glass of warm champagne. ?I could care less. I made my peace, burnt the bridges I knew I no longer wished to cross; flipped off my ex-wife and told her just how cavernous her vagina really was,? he noticed he?d caught my interest; ?have you seen the old Disney Pinocchio? The original animated one? When Monstro leaps out at you. Just like that.?

 

?With the teeth??

 

He smiled. ?No- no vagina dentata that I ever saw- but more than once I swear it felt like it bit me- it was about the only time I felt much of anything, actually. I may be the first man to ever have to ask the question, ?is it in??? His eyes twinkled. ?But some of the nurses, a few of the doctors- they prepared themselves rationally for the journey. But there?s no real way to ready yourself emotionally to leave your home, forever, knowing you?ll never go back. But I think having made a decision to do something, and now the slow, inevitable march towards that something, it?s given people time to come to grips with it all. Don?t get me wrong, PsychDiv is going to have its hands full for the foreseeable time to come, but I think the trepidation is passing.?

 

?And you and I??

 

?Are as square as you?d like us to be.?

 

?Good. For what it?s worth, you wouldn?t have been a terrible captain. Plus I?d be interested in seeing a new Head Sacktugger around here.?

 

?Though hopefully not for some time.? He picked his book back up, and I took the hint and left.

 

I wasn?t sure I wanted to talk to PsychDiv. Our relationship had always been complicated, but now it was even more so. But I was already in for a penny on this, and after talking to MedDiv I almost had to know. She wasn?t in her office. She?d taken a glass of champagne to her room. I knocked on her door, and she opened it immediately.

 

?You?re fully dressed this time; that is unfortunate. I was hoping for a plum colored nightgown this time. I think it would set off your eyes.? Her eyebrows raised, because she assumed I was being euphemistic, but I was looking in her eyes, and she thought better. 

 

?And it?s something that won?t hold??

 

?It might,? I stepped inside, ?but I don?t think you?d ask me to hold it alone.?

 

She rolled her eyes, and stepped back over to her chair. ?Okay, that one was definitely an en tendre- and an awkward one, at that.?

 

I dropped onto a second chair and slumped. ?They can?t all be subtle. But I?m focusing a lot on the polls. Most people still haven?t given any input- and there?s most of a week left before the deadline. If I weren?t intimidated by your profession, I?d probably use the word obsessed.?

 

?Are you familiar with the Kübler-Ross model- more commonly known as the five stages of grief? The reason that isn?t the formal name is they aren?t stages- that implies chronologic linearity- but people experiencing loss go through varying degrees of at least parts of those stages. So what I?m getting at is, are you bargaining??

 

?I- maybe? I think I?d invested so much of my being into this mission- this purpose, that I?ve built around the position. It?s hard to think about abandoning it. Terrifying. I don?t know what the future holds for any of us- and that?s not just about usual uncertainty, I mean I haven?t a clue. We?re not just going off the reservation, but we?re without a net. We?re talking about severing ties with the rest of our species, and going it alone in the universe.?

 

?Don?t we always??

 

?No, we don?t. That crap about how we?re all born alone and we all die alone? It?s just that- crap. We?re born into families, even if they aren?t always complete, two-parent homes. And as we age, we meet people, and become part of groups. It?s a rare bastard who outlives all his family and scares off everyone else; most people, when they die, they?re surrounded by family and people they care about. But we?re leaving most of those behind.?

 

?Except those we decided we were going to go out into the universe with.?

 

?Yeah. I guess being with several hundred people I know and trust isn?t exactly the same as being alone. But I guess my anxiety is that they?re my family. I like some of them less than others,? she smiled and blushed, anticipating my next thought, ?and some I like more. But I hate the idea that I?m tearing everybody from what might have been the rest of their lives.?

 

?But you aren?t. You, very specifically, aren?t doing any such thing. Because you stopped making it about you when you put it up for a vote. When you let people decide where we?re going, and what we?re doing, you took you out of the equation. Whatever happens next, it?s a fate we chose, together.?

 

?It that how your people see it??

 

?My people, are people. Some of them like the freedom. Some of them rue the lack of structure. Some are just flattered to be asked what they think. My people run the gamut. But I think they all understand, too, what you?re trying to do. And why.?

 

?I guess that?s all I can ask. But I did have a personal question- though I guess for you that also makes it a professional one. Do you think I?m commitmentphobic??

 

?No. A clinical commitmentphobe, which is not the diagnostic term, wouldn?t have been able to join the Nexus. That kind of decision is far too permanent- in fact, the belief that all decisions are like the choice to live out the rest of your life with one decision, like joining the Nexus, is about the definition of the pathology. However, I think your relationships suffer from the fact that you don?t commit to women themselves, but vague ideations of them- an objectification, if you prefer.?

 

?Maybe I objectify most women, but not you.?

 

?No, you idealize me- that?s the point I?m making.?

 

?I do idolize you.?

 

?I know you think you?re being cute?

 

?Are you saying I?m not??

 

?I think you don?t know how to love a person.?

 

?If you?re questioning my prowess I?d be more than happy to take that as a challenge. I?ve always been curious about your fainting couch.?

 

?I mean you don?t know how to exclusively love a single person. You?re compassionate, but compassion gives way to passion which gives way, to, well, you- a walking erection dangling from the tail of a bleeding heart.?

 

?That?s a disturbing image. But what you?re saying is you wouldn?t be interested in my dysfunctional person even if I was the last man alive.?

 

?No, I would- provided I was the last woman alive- including facsimile species. Because then you?d be forced to pay attention to me, not the woman you?ve built up in your imagination I am. But I think the reason you want me is because you can?t have me, and perhaps because you think I need you.?

 

?Or maybe it?s just because I do. Would that be so wrong??

 

?For you? That would actually be approaching healthy.?

 

?Since I believe turnabout?s fair play-?

 

?I don?t think that applies to psychology, but whatever?

 

?I think you spend the majority of your day overanalyzing everyone else, without turning a fraction of the same scrutiny on your own actions. I?m not criticizing; we all have our blind spots. But I can?t help but suspect yours is willful. And maybe that?s healthy. Maybe being overly critical of ourselves only leads to neuroses, and self-doubt. But I can?t help but wish that you?d allow yourself to take more chances. I?m not sure you?re as happy as you should be.?

 

?Noted,? she said, then kicked up out of her chair. ?But if you?ll excuse me, it?s past my bedtime. And I was about to slip into a nightgown, which is plum, and makes my eyes look amazing- both pairs.? She grinned, and I was lost for a moment in how red her lips were. ?Now go.?

 

?You?re a cruel, cruel woman.?

 

?No, I just believe turnabout?s fair play.?

 

Sam was waiting outside Maggie?s room. For a moment I felt like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar- a diabetic boy, at that. ?I hear you?ve been asking questions all over the ship. What?s the verdict??

 

?I think we?re going to war.?

 

?I meant about us,? she said solemnly.

 

?So did I,? I deadpanned.

 

?You?re such a jerk to me,? she said, and slapped her palms against my shoulder, but then she nuzzled her head into my jaw.

 

?But it sounds like we?re going to destroy the worm-gate.?

 

?You?ll never get to see your home again, either.? There was sadness in her voice.

 

?I am home,? I told her, and kissed her softly.

 

?Much better,? she said.

 

?There was one more person I wanted to talk to. His cabin isn?t too far from here.? I didn?t tell her it was Pete I wanted to talk to; I didn?t want her to think about his wedding again and get sad.

 

But before I could even knock on the door, Haley interrupted. ?I was instructed to tell you, if you didn?t have the sense God gave to a tick on a horse?s ass, that he is busy honeymooning. That is the thumping sound you hear.?

 

?I don?t hear any thumping sound,? Sam said.  

 

?Then he said to tell you you?re hearing his refractory period. He was very thorough, in his briefing. He insisted on showing me diagrams from the Kama Sutra.?

 

?Haley, did you feel sexually harassed by HR?s presentation? Are you asking to file charges once he?s back on duty.?

 

?No. More confused.?

 

?Fair enough. Sam?? I held out my hand, and she snapped it up. We nearly ran to our cabin. Just because we weren?t married, didn?t mean we couldn?t have a honeymoon of our own.

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