It was a pattern William was becoming too familiar with. The ebbing darkness, the slow entrance of light. The pain and horror of waking into a world that had become worse than his nightmares, though the line between them was becoming increasingly blurred. This time, when he opened his eyes, the only difference was his surroundings. That and the general tension that had filled the air since he last woke from a long sleep.
Slowly, his eyes resolves to take in what was around him, his memory doing its best to catch up. But things had become so episodic of late, it was hard to know what constituted a waking memory and fragments of a bad dream. He seemed to remember hearing about someone dying, and the face, and the eye… which was real?
His surroundings certainly seemed real, even if they were altogether new to him. The long tube had been replaced what appeared to be an enclosed room. Broken and dirtied tiles decorated the floor, and the walls seemed to be designed in the same pattern, though most of the tiles appeared to be missing.
Adjacent rooms appeared to be connected through stone archways, but he was not able to see what went on in those. Mainly, he just heard the din coming from all sides. People bustling back and forth, orders being shouted and large crates and boxy equipment being moved in a hurry.
The only other feature he could see was a tunnel that appeared to descend into another area. But unlike the open archways, this one was all but filled by debris. The step also appeared darkened with a maroon puddle.
Oh God, he thought. Panic began to rise in him and his heart began to pound rapidly. Something else was coming back to him now. The memory was broken up, episodes of blackness permeated by quick, sharp flashes of something terrible. He could feel an explosive force shoving him, draining his lungs of air. His lungs drained again, and his breathing grew frantic as he tried to fill them.
“Hey, he’s up!”
Someone yelled this off to his right. He looked in the direction of the noise and saw Kurzweil standing there, his expression as dour as ever. Somehow, it seemed reassuring though, the fact that he could recall seeing that expression before. Anything revealed to be accurate at this point was confirmation that he was still alive, and sane. His breathing began to slow and the aching in his chest faded. Within seconds, whatever it was that had stricken him seemed to fade like all the other inaccessible moments he had experienced. He was grateful for that much…
More words passed between Kurzweil and the man standing next to him. They leaned in close and seemed to be whispering conspiratorially. Whatever it was, Kurzweil did not appear to be too happy, and William was suspecting that he was the source of that displeasure. They pulled apart after a moment and William was able to catch the last statement with some clarity.
“Get Molya over here, with his kit.”
The other man nodded and took off out of sight. Setting his sights on William again, Kurzweil walked over and kneeled down beside him.
“How are you feeling?”
William was about to answer in the positive, but realized he hadn’t taken stock of his own situation yet. A strange thing, but he had become instantly concerned with his surroundings upon waking, that and the horrible feeling that had overtaken him. He looked around to make sure he still had all his limbs, to his stomach where his previous injuries had been. Everything seemed in order, even the aching pains in his stomach appeared to be better than before. He still felt uncomfortable getting to his feet, but that didn’t seem like too much of a concern right now.
“I’m fine… I think.”
“Good,” Kurzweil said firmly. “Because I need you up and working, otherwise you might find yourself on the business end of my boot.”
“I’m… sorry?” William said.
“You should be. I’ve already lost two people because of you. And since one of them happened to be your biggest fan, that doesn’t exactly bode well for you now, does it?”
William frowned and scanned the room again. Panic was beginning to creep up on him again, but not because of Kurzweil’s implied threat. Something about what he had just said was bringing that terrible something into focus. He could remember something being said… somewhere… someone dying. His heart lept into his throat when he realized who he must have meant
“Dear God… not…”
“Jacobs?” he asked pointedly. “Lucky for you, he’s just in a coma. Still, him being down is somewhat of an immeasurable loss for me right now. No, I’m afraid this crew lost its chief medic, the same one who saved your ass in the first place. Did you even learn her name?”
William searched his memory. The broken mosaic wasn’t exactly yielding much in the way of answers, especially under such scrutiny. But remembering the one woman he had seen since they brought him here wasn’t that difficult. He was sure he could even come up with a name, provided he concentrated.
“Jorka?” he said, searchingly.
“That’s right. She was the one who stabilized you long enough for us to drag your ass in here. We were shorthanded with all the wounded coming in so Jacobs had to take special care of you. Still, had she not performed that initial checkup, you’d be dead right now. Bet it doesn’t sit too well with you, knowing her death’s on you.”
More panic. William couldn’t focus under the weight of his accusations and the terrible recollections filling him. His words turned into a stuttered idioglossia.
“I – I – what – I don’t – ”
“Yes, I know you don’t remember. But rest assured, had Jacobs not insisted on going back for you, she’d still be alive. And he’d be up and running too. Like I said, that makes two people that I’m out of because of you.”
“I didn’t –”
“Yeah, I know,” Kurzweil interrupted. “You didn’t ask to be saved, did you? Not the first time and certainly not the second time. But like it or not, keeping you alive is becoming a full time burden that I can no longer afford. Which leaves me with a tough choice…”
William’s eyes went bald. Suddenly he was aware of the gun Kurzweil was holding. It was smaller than the one Jacobs had shown him down below, but no less threatening now. Things didn’t get any better when Kurzweil drew himself up, the gun rising to be at the same level as William’s head. William took a deep breath and closed his eyes. If this was going to be it, he would face it with what little dignity he had left.
And he waited… and waited some more…
“Boss?” he heard another man say. He opened one eye and saw Molya standing behind Kurzweil, a medical kit in hand and a blank look on his face.
“Boss? You called for me?”
“Yes,” Kurzweil said. “Let’s talk a moment…”
William watched their backs as the two men stepped away from him and went into the adjacent room, leaving him to ponder some rather pointed questions.
Foremost amongst them was, what the hell just happened? More importantly, will I even live to see tomorrow? And most important of all, do I want to? He could only assume the men were contemplating similar questions in the next room…
“What are you talking about, sir? I thought we needed him.”
“Andrew was of that opinion, but Andrew is in a coma and won’t be getting up anytime soon. That, and the fact that we lost Miranda, coupled with all the time and resources that have been used keeping this guy alive, makes me think he’s no longer worth it.”
Molya rolled his eyes. Before, he had been relieved to know that Jacobs was alive, albeit in an induced coma. Now he sorry the man was unconscious at all. Dealing with this sort of thing seemed beyond him, even if he was now the second in command.
“Do we have to make this choice now? We leave in less than twenty-four hours.”
“And because of him, we’re leaving short a medic and my second in command. And since he’s still not in the right shape to travel, I can’t see why we should waste more food and medical supplies to keep him here.”
“Boss, you don’t know what you’re asking.”
“Sure I am.” He opened up the med kit and presented it to Molya. “I’m asking you to make a choice, since you’re an unbiased party in all this. You can give him the hydromorphone, enough to make sure he never wakes up. You can give him the thiopentothol and put him under until we get back.”
He slammed the case shut, put it down by his side, and raised his other hand to offer up his service gun. “Or you can be merciful and conservative and just put one between his eyes. You’re call. I’m asking you to make it.”
Molya took a deep breath, tried to marshal his thoughts. What was being asked of him seemed far too severe, regardless of the circumstances. He eyed the options before him again. Which one could he honestly say he approved of most?