There's no time to be angry. I'd rather be angry than scared but I still have to get out.
|Featured in "There is a Bomb Under the Table!" by Annette
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This was written for a contest set by our campfire leader KC under the midnight sun
The direct companion story to Apollo is "Out of the Dark" [13+]
This is a little background piece on my character Chance in "Einstein's Outrageous Legacy" 18+: In which a search is proposed and pursued and succeeds (probably).
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I wait for everything to stop. Every time I want to get up I make myself wait a little longer. It feels like I've been waiting for quarter of an hour but it's probably only been a minute or so when I dare to start moving. I’m sheltered under a bed, which I push off carefully. I can't see much in the ruin, but I can feel the rubble and debris all around. I shuffle across the floor so I don’t stand on anything and grope out the new shape of the room.
Bombing a hospital, how low can you get? It's bad enough waging war on your own colonies. It's like reversing your car over someone you just hit. This place was as much like a hospital as a soup kitchen is to a restaurant, but that just makes it worse doesn’t it?
There's no time to be angry. I'd rather be angry than scared but I still have to get out from under this barrow. I feel around for a while, trying to find a way forward in any direction. It's uncomfortable, crawling over brick and glass shrapnel, having to test everything carefully to keep from cutting myself. I have no idea how far I am from anything and I would never know if I was going in circles. There are torches in all the emergency bags, if I can find one.
I reported to the chief here just a few hours earlier. The building is some kind of cleaned out warehouse or something, with nothing under the ceiling except powerful lights and nothing on the floor but cold, clean concrete. Row after row of cots stacked across it with charts on clipboards by each bed. Hardly a man or woman on those beds hadn’t been shot or cut up somehow. Not one case which wasn’t a product of violence. I doubt any of the patients could have survived the bombing. I'm probably the only person left alive in here, but I try not to think about it too much.
Stone scrapes across stone from not far from me. I duck away from it. I don't fancy getting crushed after surviving the first fall. Nothing collapses but I can hear more debris rolling around. Then light spills in. Instead of a uniform I see white: the white coat of medical staff. I remember how to breathe again, and start coughing on the dust.
I move over to him quickly, helping to ease him through the hole. He drops the torch and every muscle in his body tenses up in defence, but I ignore it and drag him through until he's practically sitting on me. Only then do I let go.
"Ow?" he sits back a little, holding his arm to his shoulder. I pick up the torch and use it to get a good look at him, although I have to point it off to one side to keep from blinding either of us. I draw a complete blank for a second. I know this man. I've known him for a long time. I just didn't know he was here. We're both lucky, but he's always been lucky. Blessed as my mother used to say, and it's only fair. He needs that luck to balance everything else out.
He doesn't recognise me, but he's really looking. It's hard to forget him though. He's ridiculously well put together. If I didn't know better I would suspect someone had been playing with a chemistry set to make him. He's blond, with that hair cut that isn't really cut at all and always seems to get in the way but could never be any other style. He has eyes the kind of blue you get on a child and sometimes he gives you that same clueless stare.
"Dr McCallum." I've never called him that, so I have no idea why I do it now. He'll tolerate 'doctor' from his patients but he pulls faces when I use his proper name. The number of times he's refused to turn when you call him McCallum – but then again he's not exactly the universe's most observant person, so it might not always be denial.
Just as I expect he scowled like a toddler for calling him McCallum and I can see the gears turning while he tries to figure out who I am. I also see that he's lost some colour, more than the little blue-white torchlight takes away.
"Are you alright?" It's the most idiotic question in the world. I wonder if the ground shook hard enough to separate my brain from my lips since I keep blurting this rubbish out. Why would he be alright? We’ve both had a hospital dropped on us.
"Hmn? Yeah, yeah I'm fine. Listen, would you do me a favour?" It's definitely him. Finding him here and now is a miracle. "Could you maybe put my shoulder back in? It's kinda tricky to do myself." I want to laugh. I shouldn't and don't, it's just the way he says it: like he's asking me to glue something while he's on the phone.
"Why not?" I take the limp arm gently, noticing now the way he was trying to sit without putting any weight on the shoulder or moving the arm. It must have been agonizing to get through the rubble like that, and awkward trying to do it with a torch out and a bag in tow. Carefully, I hold his arm near the elbow and on the upper arm, pushing him away a little with my foot as I pull his wrist toward me. The idea is to pull the shoulder into line so that it falls back into the socket.
But he makes this choking sound and my heart folds in on itself. I make myself keep hold, make myself keep pulling despite his pain. Finally I feel the joint slip back into alignment. He massages his shoulder and looks up at me again, still trying to figure out who I am. Since he won't ask I give him the answer.
"Dominic Lucia." I say, smirking a little when realization hits him. He looks abashed for a second and smiles back.
"You're more of an idiot than I am. What are you doing out here? You should have a nice cushy civilian place with an apartment and rugs and everything." He lights up instantly though and despite where and when we are, despite the bruises, grazes, and coating of dust on him he looks like his own perfect self again.
"Rugs?" I raise an eyebrow, but then Chance never does make complete sense. It’s pot-luck as to whether or not he even makes it to the end of a sentence sometimes.
"It's good to see you." he put on that silly smile that seemed to use every spare inch of his body. Back at the academy it had been six or seven of us, all held together by our profession and fate putting us in the same places the first few times. We'd all kind of looked after him. He's not any less capable or anything; he just needed a nudge every now and again. Chance had his head so high in the clouds sometimes he didn't always come back down with all the pieces.
"You're a mess." I flick the torch up to look into the tunnel behind him. It's not going to be easy getting out.
"No more than you. You lost your bag too." He produces his and grins at me. "I need to borrow you hands again. I want to keep this arm nice and tidy and out of the way for a while. It needs bed rest." One-handed he pulls a roll of bandage out of the bag and a pair of scissors. I oblige him and tie a simple sling on it, unfastening his coat and half clipping it again.
"Try to stay out of trouble for a minute, okay?"
"Me? I'm an angel." He sits back and I just smirk, taking another look inside his tunnel. Further inspection turns up nothing in here except rubble, a mangled bed and worryingly enough the smell of blood developing in the air.
My mother used to be a professor in ancient cultures. She adored the ancient Greeks and I guess she handed that on to me. Considering how far behind they were they had so many things so close to right: it was their philosophy. They liked to think, to mind their own business and study. So many things in modern science and medicine started with the Greeks. But that's not where I was going. My mother used to tell me the myths of the Greeks, their pantheon and heroes. When I was little I used to think it was all real. That Zeus and Hera really did live out in space somewhere on a planet called Olympus, and that my mother and I were the only ones who knew.
I stopped thinking about the ancient gods for the most part by the time I joined the academy's later years to train as a nurse. But our Chance reminded me of my favourite patron of medicine; hoarding hours of music recordings, and somehow always lighting up a room if only to me.
I pull him to his feet and he lifts up the bag again.
"How far have you come in this direction?" I ask. The bombing has definitely ruptured my brain filter. I don’t even finish the sentence before I’m overcome with a wave of common sense. Chance gives me a look that mirrors that thought. We both know it'd have to be written on the wall for him to answer. Possibly in iridescent paint.
"Let's try that again. Which way do you want to go?" I suggest.
He looks around for a minute and picks a part of the 'wall' that looks least difficult to get through. We both start pulling away rock.
"How long have you been out here?" He asks. It's not the same question it seems. With anyone else anywhere else it’s perfectly innocuous. But 'out here' means something completely different on this war ravaged colony.
Sorry, it's a 'pro-active suppression of hostility against the central government'. That’s the phrase they use to justify implementing military oppression. The truth is they failed the colonies in too many ways too many times, and we wanted out to look after ourselves, to form independent states. So they forced us to stay. This is the second time around since I was born. Round One ended before I enrolled at the academy. When ignoring us didn’t work, they put a strangle hold on us to inhibit our recovery. That didn’t work, so I think this time they’re just going to blast everything back down to bare earth.
I don't mean 'us'. I sympathise with the rebellion and the colonies, but that’s not why I came out here. I'm a nurse. I had to be on one side or the other and this one needed me more. It also happens to deserve me more.
"A while. I just arrived here today, but I guess I'll need re-assigning now. Do you remember what day it is?"
"You say that every time I ask. Is it four o'clock too?"
"My watch broke. You were gonna say something though." He slides another piece of masonry away carefully, flashing the torch over the wall to check nothing's about to fall.
"I'm probably out by a couple of days, but it's around about time for the festival near St. Christopher's."
Every year there was a big culture festival, or history festival, near the academy. I forget which they called it. We really had to keep an eye on him around then because he spent more on the stalls at that festival every year than my ex spent on shoes her entire life. It was downright dangerous to leave him on his own. He almost missed lectures plenty of times, and was nearly arrested twice for tampering with the academy computers to get more storage gigs.
Chance groans and smacks his head off the wall. "I hate you. Why did you have to tell me that?" I just laugh and prod him into helping again. "No, I mean it Lucia. It's been a long time. A lifetime."
"I missed you too." More than he knows.
I would have done anything for him back then. He is my Apollo after all. A secret even he doesn't know. We all went our separate ways after the academy but I still watched over him. I love him, love him like a brother. No, no-one really loves their brother as much as this when they use that phrase. What am I trying to say? He makes me feel whole, you know? Like if all the world went to hell – which it is – I could keep it together next to him. I don't know. I think I'm just waffling. Having the ceiling come down on you is likely to do that.
"How's your mother?" Chance asks.
"Gone. Your Dad?"
"Still around I think. Probably praying and cursing me every minute of the day."
All the joy drains from the conversation. That's what happens here. Of course recent events aren't helping much. Somehow our reunion is as much a curse as a blessing. Now all I can think about is how naive we were back then. How everything was so simple and clean and safe. He's probably thinking the same thing and understandably it's putting a dampener on things.
Oh Gods, his father. I haven't really any family left. My old man ran out on us when I was young and my mother passed on a while ago but Chance is different. It's not so much his sake that I feel my stomach churning right now. It's Kyle McCallum back on the far side of the fence. There he is sitting in a perfectly civilised town somewhere wondering if his son is alive or not, not knowing when he died or if he still might. And that it’s his people throwing explosives at his boy. It's almost impossible to get messages back past the uniforms and barricades. Those two have only ever had each other. Chance always tells everyone his name is because he caught his mother by surprise. It might be true, I'm not sure. What I do know is that she didn't have long to give him the name. Chance and Charity, non-identical twins, were too much for her. Whatever it was it killed her and it took Charity with her. That man was left with nothing but a single sickly infant and the knowledge that he had to try and live out another fifty years.
And at this moment he was stuck in a beautiful, peaceful urban purgatory waiting to know if the rest of his heart was going to break or not.
I realise Chance is giving me a funny look and asking me something. I look at him blankly and he smirks. He says we have enough of a task to get through with just one air-head. I need to keep my act together otherwise we'll just end up digging in circles or to China. Which would be an achievement since we're several trillion miles from Earth. The tangent starts to elope with him so I cut it off by telling him to concentrate. It works for now but we need to keep digging.
It takes a while but we get further from where we started, and hopefully closer to the outside. We keep talking about nonsense things like who from St. Christopher's was doing what last time I knew. We talk about how bad my taste in girlfriends is and what a complete mystery it is that he doesn't have one. It's not such a mystery though, he used to treat women like an alien species, and when he realised that they weren't all that different from men he put them back on the list of things less interesting than curing a pandemic. He wants to know what I had for lunch before I came out here, and we start to get carried away. Fights could break out over a can of baked beans Out Here, and the conversation rapidly degrades into food porn. You remember those ads on tv? 'It's not roast potatoes, it's... hydroponically raised maris pipers in..' and so on? It gets like that and my stomach reminds me how long it’s been since I last ate.
He laughs at me. "Hungry Lucia?" He sits down, settling back against the 'wall' and pulls his bag onto his lap. Seeing what he brings out makes me despise my petty mortal requirement for sustenance: ration bars. The foulest tasting things you could possibly eat without it causing food poisoning. They look mockingly like snack bars, but there are two reasons you wouldn't eat a whole one: first how bad they taste, and second that they expand and dilute when they hit your stomach. They last a good long while though and are light. He’s probably carrying about a month's worth right there.
"I can't eat that."
"Why not?" He takes a bite and shrugs, offering it to me. I take as little as I can get away with and he tucks it back into the bag, bringing out a flask of water. It's hardly a coffee break and we're up again after about a minute, working on the stone.
"I think this is what it's supposed to be like." He says, completely losing me again. He does that a lot though, starting a topic he's already been running through his head long before he starts talking. It confuses a lot of people, and scares his patients when he starts mumbling to himself whilst looking at their charts. There is nothing scarier than just hearing '-ism', '-niatic' and other similarly mysterious suffixes when you're in a paper gown watching a man in white read your test results.
"Having a brother. I think it must be kinda like this." Oh. The same life-and-universe kind I’ve been carrying so far. They’re worse when I'm in company than alone. Particularly worse with him. I can see what this place has done to Chance now; how tired he looks, the weight of trying to save so many lives with so little to work with. He's starting to struggle to come up with meaningless chatter, never one to lead a conversation on the best of days. He would just sort of phase in, look confused, say his piece, and go back to wherever his mind was before.
"I think so too. Do you think it would have been like this with Charity? They say twins are supposed to be closer." Not a new question and one he’d heard plenty of times over. What did it feel like? Can you feel her now even though she's gone? Do you miss her? The answers is always 'no'. She'd barely lived a day. It was like asking if he missed his great great grandmother.
"I guess. I always reckoned it was identical twins though, from when the embryo splits into two separate people."
"I know what you mean." I smile a little and he smiles back at me with that same grin again. It looks perfect, no different than it ever did. "What?" he just smirks and shakes his head. "What?" I insist.
"You're a brat, you know that right?" I laugh and poke him in the ribs. He just laughs again and hits me. We carry on a little further and I get the feeling that we're almost out. I can something outside.
I hold out my arm and motion for him to be quiet. He watches me while I watch the tiny strip of light peeking through the stone. What I can hear is less encouraging than what I can see: gunfire.
I take the next stone away carefully, peering out without getting too close to the space. He can hear it too now, but he looks more irritated than worried. There's a pair of trucks across the street that are Ours, and somewhere off to the side there must be some uniforms incoming because the men by our trucks are falling back while firing.
"If we don't go now they'll be driven off." He moves another stone, slipping his arm from the sling.
We're going to have to make a run for it. It doesn't take long to make a hole big enough, but it's still too much time. He gives me that grin again one last time then we make a dash for the trucks. I don't know why but some bastard of a uniform starts shooting at us rather than the armed men. They do that sometimes, I’m told. Some of them think the more people they can kill the better. Our men must get him though because he stops firing. Just not quite quickly enough. I don’t feel any pain, but my body stops and falls. I need to get back up, but I’m face down on the floor and I can’t make my limbs listen.
If I weren't already dying the look on his face when I got hit would have killed me.
Doctor Abramowitz sat in his chair and Chance sat in his, playing solitaire again. The simple task of moving cards onto the correct column required only a little concentration, but for the duration of the hour session Chance found refuge in it.
"You said something while you were doing that the other day. About the king of hearts." Doc said.
Why 'Doc'? Chance still didn’t understand that. A million and one people in the universe went by ‘doc’, and it always annoyed him. Chance had a name and he liked people to use it. ‘Doctor’ just described his profession, his function. There was more to both of them than that training, so why pick ‘doc’ of all things for a pet name?
Doc’s not-technically-a-question came very close to the border of the rules: Chance had to talk, so long as Doc stayed away from personal questions and predictable questions about the colony wars. He knew from the first session that Doc would try to find every way around their agreement, and Doc knew that Chance was not going to expose anything he thought might get him removed from the project to the man assigned to assess his mental state. But in between the immovable object and the undeterrable force they both had plenty to work with.
"Yes, a name I think. Something about it being Lucia's favourite."
Chance placed the red ten very carefully on the jack of spades. Had he really said that aloud?
“As much as anyone can have a favourite card. If I had to pick it’d be the three of spades. Spades are sort of sexy, like a ripe fruit.” He lifted the three and showed it to Doc. “I can’t explain the three. I just like triangles. My father prefers multiples of five, but that’s a bit too neat.”
"Chance, who is Lucia?"