Snowed: The Weekend Trip

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless from the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs, smudged and dust-covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a competitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider again. In one instant, he took the chance and pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

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Married by Mistake Chapter 38. Emergency Room Visit

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Chapter 38. Emergency Room Visit

“We will have to go back to get our bags when we have the car.” Kaylee, taking command of the situation. She had noticed that Tom look more pale, but was not saying anything.

Kaylee contorted herself to look through the tunnel that separated from the front to the patient compartment.

He definitely favored the arm and he rubbed the fingers lightly. The occasional yelp of pain was testament that his arm caused him more agony than before they left the plane.

“Tom, why don’t you admit something is wrong? You picked up that bag with that arm, did it hurt then?” Kaylee called back.

“No. But that is the only thing I did. I didn’t even think about it.” He admitted. Tom Looked at the medic. “I really didn’t feel anything was wrong after I picked up the bag.”

“I’m married, I am not about to get in the middle of an argument. You just stay cool, you can always argue later.” The medic shook his head with a wry grin.

“Chicken.”

“Yup. Big rule: Do not get involved with husband-wife spats.” The medic chuckled. “I always lose.”

“My arm hurts worse, I thought it was the plane and decompression.” Tom moaned.

“Is it throbbing or is it a steady pain?” The medic asked as he taped down an IV on Tom’s good arm. “Your blood pressure is lower than I would expect.”

Using pillows, the medic raised the arm above Tom’s heart.

“Oh, I had a bit of surgery on my arm and it started to hurt after I picked up a bag to carry. I shifted it to my good arm, but I think I pulled on something too much.” Tom said, his voice stronger, doing his best to hide his discomfort. “Actually, that makes it feel better.”

“Okay, it’s just a short trip to Mountain View hospital, just a couple of miles.” The medic said as he looked forward, his name was George, he looked like a man who had many miles in an ambulance. “How long have your fingers been cool like this?”

“Cool? They felt warm in the airplane.”

George pressed on Tom’s fingernails of his good hand.

“Uh-huh.” Then his fingers went to Tom’s pained hand. “Can you feel when I touch your fingers?”

“It tingles a bit.” Tom said. “That’s okay, it has been like that for a while.”

“Define a while?”

“Most of the day, but my fingers have stayed warm and red.”

Nodding, George let no concern show behind his brown eyes. He might as well been talking about the weather.

“Well,” George pressed on the bandage, leaving the bandage on his arm. “We will get the doctor to open this time-bomb carefully.”

“Why don’t you do it?”

“Ah yeah, no. What if I release the pressure and turn you into a firehose of blood?” George chuckled. “That would be a bad thing. I can see it leaking through the gauze now. This close to the ER, you are better off to have a surgical team look this over to release the pressure.”

Tom laughed nervously, unsure if he was joking.

Backing into the ambulance bay at the ER Entrance, Kaylee watched a conversation between George and an older woman in a white coat about surgery and sudden and increasing pain got the doctor’s attention while the medic crew rolled Tom in on a bright yellow ambulance gurney.

“Mister Harte? I am Doctor Octavia Guzman. Is it okay if I examine you and your arm.” The white coated woman smiled as a nurse walked close and started taking notes on a computer stand.

“Do your fingers tingle?” The doctor said

“Yes, a little.”

“Have they been cool or warm?” She asked touching them. Her raven-black hair was almost blue, the black eyes of a local native tribe. She had an air of professionalism mixed with deep caring. The crew rolled Tom to a separate room off to the side and moved him to a hospital bed.

“Cap-refill is greater than four-seconds. We need to get a view of his surgery site.” She directed to the nurse.

Giving orders for a host of tests, she sat down with Tom and Kaylee .

Answering all her questions, the original trauma and surgery to fix the wound.

“Donna?” He turned to the clerk. “Get me his surgeon on the phone.”

“Let’s open this bandage and see what the trouble with the arm is, shall we?” The Doctor trimmed away the white bandage, stained a slight-brown with the fluids soaking through from the suture line.

“You say you picked something up?”

“Yes,” Tom hissed in pain when the doctor pulled back on the layer of bandage she cut. “My other hand was full and I was just going to hang the bag on my good wrist. It wasn’t heavy. Maybe seven-kilos. My elbow popped, but it always pops after not using it much.”

“Hm. Fascinating.” While she trimmed more of the wrapping away. “This is rather tight, did you wrap your arm this tight to begin with?”

“Kaylee , my wife, she was in the other room when I started the wrap with one hand.”

“Well, now I have looked a little deeper, you would do well to let her do it from now on. You wrapped it too tight and restricted the return circulation.” He pressed a fingernail, blanching it white. The color returned quickly. “You might be having more pain in the hand now?”

Tom moaned slightly.

“Yeah, it aches.”

“How long has it been since you changed the dressing? When did you wrap it so tightly?”

“Um.”Tom thought, looking at the clock on the wall. “About three-hours now.”

“Blood is returning, but I am still worried about the extensive surgery you had on this arm and the bandage being tight for so long. The popping sound you heard also bothers me. I’ll be talking with your surgeon and ask his opinion. I recommend you see him as soon as possible over this incident.”

The doctor looked at his fingers again, the color had returned to reasonable facsimile of normal and were warming up.

“I will get a vascular consult on this and make sure that no lasting damage resulted from the bandage.” She smiled at Tom. “I think you get to thank your wife for saving the arm. She told the nurse that you wanted to go to the hotel and instead she brought you here in the ambulance.”

“That’s true.” Tom said. “But I wanted to change the bandage at the hotel room, so we could have cured the problem.”

“Maybe. But you did not know. You had gone all the way around with the tape when you put your bandage on, the tape acted as a constricting band and cut off the return of the blood in your arm. ” With that, the Doctor walked out.

Two hours later, they were in a rental Tesla and driving towards the courthouse.

“Seriously, Tom.” Kaylee said in an irritated voice. “You wrapped that thing too tight. Doctor Tribbing told Doctor Guzman that you’ll be okay, but you need to let someone else dress your arm. It was lucky I paid attention when they said how to check the fingertips.”

“You are my hero.” Tom winked but winced when they hit a bump. “It’s still tender to bumps.”

“I will not have you behaving like an idiot teenager, you will hire a home-care person until your arm is fully healed.” Kaylee sounded threatening while wheeling the Tesla Model X into a parking spot set aside for electric cars.

“We need to get going.” Tom nodded. “I can arrange the home care in a blink.”

“Well, we are here. Let’s get this done and go party. We also have to check in to the hotel room.”

“Just one? Not two?”

“I plan to have one more night, I’ll party with someone who’s not my husband until you pass out.”

“I will drink some espresso, then.”

“I’ll make you some chamomile tea, instead. It’s healthier for you.”

“Maybe.” Tom said. “Ugh, arm is throbbing.”

Standing in line for five minutes, they discussed their party plans for the evening.

The clerk was slightly disbelieving to the intent and the friendliness of the couple. They paid cash for the forms, and followed the instructions on the printed paper. They finished in a short time.

Walking back out to the car, they found a citation on the windshield for parking in the electric-only car stall.

The parking enforcement officer was just getting back to his vehicle.

“What is this for?” Tom asked.

“You can’t park there, sir. Electric only.”

“This is electric.”

“Sorry, sir. I don’t it says four-wheel-drive on the back.”

“It’s all electric…”

“Bring it up in the courts, it’s not my call.” The young man said.

Kaylee sighed. An urge to kick someone was growing, like she not had kicked a man in the chest in a month.

“Let’s go to an un-wedding party of our own. Forget this place. We’re done with business here.” Tom suggested.

“Yeah! Let’s get out of here.” The wife-that-never-was agreed.

Climbing into the eSUV, Kaylee found the large tag that hung on the mirror which had a large blue lightning bolt emblazoned on it that would be visible from the sidewalk and have avoided the parking nazi from citing the rental.

“Kay, it’ll be interesting to have that conversation, but I will make sure it’s passed on to the rental company.” Tom smiled. “We were in a hurry and wanted to get me out of the ER. So if they told us, I don’t recall.”

“Neither do I. And I don’t remember getting a receipt.” Fishing through her purse. “But here it is.”

Reading the slip, she gasped.

“It says where the electric tag is. Ugh.”

“Nothing to worry about. It doesn’t go on anyone’s driving record.”

“Just annoys me,” Kaylee said as she tapped in their destination to the hotel in the GPS. “But I came here with a good time planned and I will not have anything distract me.”

“Oh? Want to lay out by the pool?” Tom said as he looked out the window. “It is a nice day, a bit hot. We can always go gambling.”

“Gambling is good, I didn’t bring my swimsuit or many clothes. Some nice pants and a top so we can have dinner out somewhere.”

“But you brought a bag that’s kind of heavy.”

“Tom, those are bandages and other supplies for things.”

“Other things? What do you mean… Ooh!” The meaning of what his ex- sank in…

Well, he couldn’t call her an ex-wife, in the eyes of the government, it never happened. So she has no ex- in relation to her other than as an ex-girlfriend.

Still! Oh, smoking crap on a cracker!

“Supplies.”

Jeeze. She was serious about this being a one last time to remember.

“Um, be gentle with me?” Tom asked.

Laughing cryptically, Kaylee just drove.

Married by Mistake Chapter 26. Papers

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Chapter 26. Papers

Kaylee left the medical center after they settled Tom back his room. He had been in a bit of pain as the nurses bathed him and gave medications to help him sleep.

She walked across the macadam surface of the airport to the hangar where the Flying Sea Dragon sat, she could barely keep from sobbing the trip from the hospital.

It hurt so much to even think of those papers that sat somewhere inside the plane, waiting.

She rode in silence in a taxi she caught at random to the airport, she did not want to ride with anyone who knew Tom, knew of Tom or had even heard about his books.

She had a serious need to sit and drink wine and smoke a bowl with her sister and talk.

She missed the afternoons with Melanie like they had in their teens. They had barely graduated from high school, but as the best of friends and the worst of enemies, they would be in a furious scream-fest fight for minutes, then would be the best of friends as they settled down for a toke.

But no outsider dare make either of them cry.

Woe be unto the person that faced the wrath of the Grant sisters. It would make for an epic bad day when both sisters would turn on the offending person with fury that only sisters, family, and those of the same heart and soul have.

As they grew older, and although they took different classes and their lives were on different paths, they became closer still.

Opening the door of the big jet, she looked down at the broken glass that still lay on the floor.

And blood! Everywhere, large black clots that cemented fibers of the carpet into a mat with choking copper-smell. It surprised her the amount that soaked into the carpet on the floor. A body-trail in the glass where he crawled to the door and yelled for help at the plane’s technicans and engineers.

She stepped past the gore and glass that almost ended Tom’s life and perhaps did end his life as a writer.

She sat at the chair and looked where the papers in the manila envelope waited, filed in the cubby-hole that Tom told her about.

She thought of Melanie and all the fights they had while she sat in the Flying Sea Dragon and held the annulment papers in her hands.

*Tom said I just had to sign on the lines in the document and mail it with…*

With…

She slumped in the chair and a wept.

*It’s strange, this is just what I wanted four-weeks ago! Now I have a serious temptation to put it in the washing machine, somewhere on the plane. Except, damn, I’m not sure where it is, hidden behind some cabinet door.* Kaylee took a heavy breath, *I’m not sure if this is wise.*

Her hands trembled when she found the place to sign in the back of the document.

She slipped the papers into the manilla envelope they were paper-clipped to, she closed and sealed the package and walked out the door of the big flying yacht.

*The Flying Sea Dragon is not as big as the Pacific Wizard is inside, it’s more cluttered with furniture, bulky items to make it feel close. Still, a comfortable plane to live in.*

*A flying yacht.* She reminded herself as she walked across the airport to the main offices.

She nearly didn’t get to mail it, the woman behind the counter almost gave it back because of Kaylee ’s facial expressions and the slumped-sad way she carried herself.

“Miss, I don’t know what you have in this, and it’s not my place to say. But do you really want to send this?” She looked as if she might have known Ben Franklin when she started for the post-office. Not a trace of color in the great-grandmotherly hair.

With the postage stamped on the envelope, the woman gave Kaylee one more look, a last chance to change her mind, then slowly it into the slot behind her and it was in the US mail with a required a signature on delivery at the court.

Once the clerk of the court received and signed for the papers, in the eyes of the government, it never happened.

It would be as if she was never married.

While Kaylee walked out to the sidewalk she dialed the number on the business card that the Chauffeur Kaikane had given her and told her to call anytime she needed a ride. This time it would be to the hospital. She would tell Tom that she signed the papers, but she was not sure about how she felt.

After breaking the line with Kaikane and his peaceful voice, she hit speed-dial and called Melanie .

‟KAY!” Melanie was always excited to hear from her sister. ‟Where are you?”

‟San Francisco. Tom has had a good run of luck with the doctors since his accident.”

‟You need to come home quick as you can. Glenn is here and he has asked for you, he said it’s important.” Melanie said in a conspiratorial tone. ‟I think he is going to ask the question.”

‟Oh.” Her heart finished the phrase. *Damn.*

‟You don’t sound excited.” Melanie became quiet, shocked at the response. “This is what you have waited for since you were kids.”

‟I just signed the papers and sent them off to Nevada. I stop being married and never was according to the state once the papers arrive.”

‟Oh sis. But this is what you want, right?”

‟I don’t know. Tom needs me.” Kaylee was quiet as she waited for the limo. “You should see his eyes. Mellie, he is a good man, he cares for so many things and he’s in pain because of me.”

‟But he was alone before he met you, and it’s only been a month.” Melanie said helpfully. ‟And you said he nearly crashed the plane with you in it.”

‟He showed the wine country off to me from the plane.” She was defensive all of a sudden. “Melanie , it was beautiful, right up until we hit the birds, scared me so bad I think I nearly peed myself.”

At the other end, her best friend and sister laughed, knowing Kaylee the way she did, for her to say something like that was funny.

They talked as sisters do over the phone. Switching to video chat while she waited for the contract limousine to pick her up.

‟Why don’t you take a cab?” Melanie asked as Kaylee sat on a bench and waited in the shade of a tree.

‟No. If this is my last limo ride I don’t have to pay for, I want to enjoy it as much as I can. Besides, there is a hot Hawaiian that drives it. You’d love him. Surfer type, intelligent as any professor, knows more about sensemilla than a DEA cop.”

Melanie laughed so hard she snorted, then held her hand over the lens while she composed herself.

‟Stringbean? You know I can still hear you.” Kaylee took her turn of laughter, using the nickname that they worked out as children. This only made Melanie laugh that much harder.

Melanie Grant was the only person in the world that could make Kaylee laugh when things were at their darkest.

Kaylee hated her for that…

Which made her laugh all the harder, she loved her sister more than anyone else in her generation. They were, after all…

Sisters.

Married by Mistake Chapter 22. Treatment Course

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Chapter 22. Treatment Course

Richard Tribbing, MD, Microsurgeon, specialist in the field that saved both Tom’s life, his professional life and his arm walked in with the team of doctors who all worked to answer their calling as microsurgeons while they made their afternoon rounds.

Looking at Kaylee , he smiled as he and the seven other doctors and fellows entered and filled the room.

Describing the injuries,commenting that the wound was ‟Large shard of glass left the wound clean as if a large scalpel had cut through the soft-tissues leaving the wound with no appreciable tearing or avulsion mid-shaft radius. The weight of the glass was sufficient to cut through the bone without deflection. There were eight-slivers of glass removed during the procedure. Imaging did not reveal any other glass in the arm.”

Kaylee sat and listened, twice she tried to leave as the surgical team made notes, questioned, and spoke in terms that sounded like Greek to her.

Doctor Tribbing chuckled when they spoke later and she referred to the conversations.

‟So how long do you think it will be before he comes home?” Kaylee asked. ‟We live on a flying yacht, there is not much room for putting a hospital bed in the plane, he told me last week he has a deadline to finish writing for.”

‟Well, he won’t be going home until the danger of… ” The Doctor paused and pulled at his chin. “How should I put this? If anything should go sideways against any of our plans to get him home and whole and functioning.”

‟How long?”

‟Depending on how his healing responds, probably two to three weeks, we have not had any problems thus far so maybe on the shorter side of that.”

‟Three weeks.” Kaylee said quietly, thanked Doctor Tribbing and sat next to the sleeping Tom and held his hand again while the Doctor left the room to continue his business.

‟Kaylee ?” It was Randy the nurse at the door. ‟There is someone who wants to see you in the waiting room.”

‟Me? Okay.” This puzzled her as no one of her friends or family knew she was at the hospital with Tom.

Kaylee walked out to the waiting room where sat a middle-aged woman with a quick eye who sat ramrod straight. She was the only one in the room.

‟I am Kaylee .”

‟You? You are Tom’s new wife?” She looked down and bit her lip in a grimace. ‟I am Georgia Hershey, Tom’s agent. I am the one that gets him published and I have been with him for the last decade. I don’t know you.”

She looked as if someone had spit on her.

“How did a young… lady… as yourself marry to Tom? That is so classic. How did you meet?” It was a near accusation tone of voice, followed with a sigh. “No no..never mind. I am here to check on him, there is an installment on the series due on the Weedy Sea Dragon, but you won’t know about that I’m sure. But I will ask anyway. Do you know if he has finished it?”

‟First, I am Tom’s wife. Second, I have heard about you and how you have pushed him to write, I’m not sure of his view of you gnawing on him to get things done.” Kaylee felt something inside of her, an anger that she last felt when she broke a man’s arm. “He has told me that you said it was due at the end of the month, but the contract I’ve read specifies no such deadline. It reads simply ‟As finished.” And third, he has one completed in the last month, I have read it and it is complete but unedited. It will get to you when it he finishes the edit.”

‟And I know that Leonard the Leafy SeaDragon is a series, your attempt to misdirect me is offensive.” Kaylee kept even voice, hiding her mounting rage.

‟I would like to see him.” Ms. Hershey said, matching Kaylee ’s tone.

‟The answer is no. He needs rest, he will contact you when he is ready and not before. He has endured a horrid injury and still might lose his arm. His access is limited while he is on polypharmecutical therapy and external fixation to hold the bones in the normal anatomic positions. ” Kaylee had to clench her fist on her drawing hand until the knuckles cracked. She chose her words with care to show the woman that she was not a simple girl. “You go back to your office, and tell the truth to who ever needs to hear it, Tom has been injured and is now with family in the intensive care department of the finest institution that can be found.” Kaylee felt heat building in her chest. “So you go back to your office or whatever crack you crawled out of and he will send it in.”

‟Well.” Ms. Hershey backed up a step. ‟Tell him to call when it is convenient, but please make it soon.”

The agent walked out amid scattered applause.

An RN smiled at Kaylee as she walked past.

‟That was awesome, she called when you and Tom were asleep, then came in and was treating us like trash. It was good to see her taken down a few notches.” The name badge said ‟Trish” on it. ‟She demanded entry. Then she told us she was Tom’s closest thing to family.” Trish frowned with the memory of the event. “We told her that security would escort her out.”

‟We got married earlier this month. Kind of a surprise for both of us.”

‟What does he write? You said something about a dragon?”

‟That’s a children’s book, he has written stories that have made it to the movies. ‟ Kaylee took a deep breath, she was suddenly cold, not realizing she had started to perspire during the confrontation. ‟His movie, Steamland that is in the theaters now.”

‟Oh? Oh WOW! I have seen that twice! It is a great movie, he wrote that?” Trish’s eyes widened.

‟Yup, he’s the author.”

‟Missus Harte, anything you need. No one will get in without your say-so.” Randy said from the door as he let both women in. Kaylee felt a bit like royalty after that. The young woman with an iron will who took no crap from anyone.

Kaylee smiled, returning to Tom’s side feeling accomplished. She had done something that she felt was worthy of the title of “Mrs. Tom”.

Married by Mistake Chapter 21. Night In the ICU

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Chapter 21. Night in the ICU

The constant, subtle sounds made an undertone that kept Kaylee from a sound sleep. Tom constantly moaned in his drugged-sleep state which further kept her popping her eyes open to check on the wounded man she was growing fond of.

Even with the heavy-duty narcotics in his system, Tom’s sleep was without rest, the arm was kept elevated with external hardware that looked like scaffolding on a building. To help the wounds to heal, wrapped in multiple layers of surgical gauze, the room was too warm for his comfort which kept him from resting and the IV fluids went into his good arm kept him from turning over.

Kaylee was over-warm, too. She could have slept naked in the room and not wish for so much as a sheet. But the compassionate nurses brought a fan in that blew across her to keep her from overheating. She still felt sorry for her husband.

Tom, stuck in one place and, for an active sleeper this was a fresh hell to live through. Plus he slept on his stomach almost always.

She asked the night-shift nurse, a skin-and-bones woman who wore a sweater that had more acronyms and abbreviations on her name-badge than anyone she had met in the ICU, if they could turn the heat down a bit.

“I’m sorry, doctor’s orders, we don’t want patients to have cold-related problems with the injuries, so we keep it close to their body temp in here.” She smiled, the wrinkled face that had seen many shifts and had answered the same question a hundred times, lit up in a comic smile and her eyes sparkled as if she was about to reveal a secret. “I am still cold, even with it as warm as it is.”

The two women hit it off, Elda, was the nurses name, offered to get Kaylee anything she needed during the night, supplying pillows hand over fist and showed her how to inflate the vacuüm packed, plastic covered items without anyone watching.

Kaylee moved the reclining seat and make-shift bed that family members used for sleeping in the same room while loved ones recovered from what life-challenges they recovered from.

Now with the makeshift pile of blankets and pillows closer to Tom, she reached out and held his good hand while she dozed in the chair next to his bed. It was an awkward arrangement, but it seemed to settle the wounded husband and author of children’s books so that he had a quiet sleep.

As his sleep became restful, she would decide that was the best thing she could do, this was the connection he needed to heal.

Starting awake when a nurse came in to check on a misbehaving IV pump, although he slept, Kaylee did not get much rest that night.

*In and out of the room all night,* She shifted in her sleep-spot. *The nurses do their checks on Tom with their rounds and wake me up.*

Like practiced witches and wizards with their practiced motions over complex and arcane machines, the magic fluid that kept her Tom…

There it was again, ‟Her” Tom. What was this that he was to her? What was she to him?

It was almost funny, in a sad sort of way, she thought as she faded to sleep again for the countless time, so tired she missed the next round of checks by the silent ninja nurse.

Kaylee woke up next and the night outside the window had gone from black to a midnight-navy-blue, becoming lighter as she stared at a flock of pelicans, illuminated by the city lights, flew in a “V” formation towards some unknown destination.

Sunrise would be soon and Tom was still asleep, but his thumb was caressing her hand as he mumbled something in a dream.

Not about her, he mumbled a man’s name, and a tear leaked out of his eye. That was odd, why would he dream about a man so much as to mention his name and weep? Then it hit her— it was not a man’s name.

It was his dead son.

Tom was having a nightmare about the night his family died, she choked and thought she might cry for his agony.

She stood and leaned over, a gentle kiss him on the forehead and he took a deep breath and opened his bright eyes.

‟What are you doing awake?”

‟That’s funny you should say that, I think you were having a nightmare.”

‟I was? Yes, I guess so, but I can’t remember what it was about, but I think I’ve been crying, is all I remember.”

‟You were trying to speak, you were saying a name I could not make it out. It sounded like…”

‟No, please. If it was a nightmare and I can’t remember, let’s leave it there.” His hoarse whisper did not sound as ragged as a dozen hours before.

Kaylee gave a soft smile and nodded, he was right. Why make a nightmare more real in the midst of the current waking nightmare of tubes, wires and synthetic fluids that dripped into his arm?

As the sky outside slowly changed from venetian-blue to more azure-grey, the fog seemed to roll in more, fighting the light of the sunrise in a futile effort of resistance against the summer sun. Patches of the dark blues giving way to indigo that surrendered to the cool blues of the new day.

Kaylee would have thought it would be romantic if not for the soft hiss of the oxygen, beeps of the monitors and distant alarms of some demanding pump that had run its course or had an error.

And Tom’s snoring. He had dropped off again.

*Men! They don’t know when to watch something of beauty.*

Another graveyard nurse, Suzanne, a nurse from South Carolina came in and did a last check and smiled at her.

‟We will be going off duty now, we are giving report in fifteen minutes, your next nurse team is led by Randy, he took care of your husband yesterday.” She smiled. “Would you like some coffee? We have fresh made.”

‟Yes, thank you.” Kaylee smiled when the small, round smiling woman walked quickly and quietly out the door. Kaylee never knew anyone who could walk with such silent speed.

She had to get up and out of the way while the men and women in white coats poked, prodded, inflicted pain making Tom yelp and made him wiggle fingers that had swollen during the night. The swelling seemed to make the team of medical magicians worried.

Arcane questions and language were tossed around. Someone poked at Tom’s hand who yelped again and uttered a profanity.

Randy came in after reports had been given and doctors filed in and out.

‟We need to get you breakfast, how did the night go?”

‟Tom had a bad night. Some nightmares just before dawn.” Kaylee reported. “Then the doctors came in and hurt him.”

‟Yes, that happens, they keep to the first rule of medicine, to do no harm. But they can inflict as much pain as they deem necessary.” The nurse chuckled. “Sometimes they get carried away. I think they like test the limits of tolerance.”

“The drugs he gets are known to cause some sleep disturbances.” Randy said with a teacher’s wisdom. ‟Sleeping here, does not help, either. Strange bed, strange sounds, odd smells and pain. Not a good combination, like the old saying, there is no place like home.”

‟That reminds me, how long will he be here? What things do we need to buy to help him heal?”

‟That.” Randy smiled like a hospital’s own Santa, ‟Is the purview of the Doctor, I cannot say. Every time I do, they make a liar out of me and I get in trouble.”

‟When will we see him, again?”

‟Doctor Tribbing? He is making rounds now. You should see him again, maybe with his team in a few hours or so. Right now, we have to take another reading of Tom’s fingers to make sure of the circulation is still there, I can look and see that it is normal color, they left notations that the hand is swollen, and they want to document numbers. So I will be back in with another tool, it’s busy elsewhere at the moment. I read he did well during the night. They took a measurement and the numbers looked good, but his fingers were swollen slightly.”

‟I saw her do that, but I was half-asleep and didn’t ask.”

‟She would have loved to talk to you, she is a wonderful lady.”

‟You two are keeping me awake.” The voice from the bed was barely above a whisper. ‟You know what time it is?”

‟Good morning to you too.” Randy laughed. ‟And yes, I know, I just got here. Your wife is giving me a report on your night, she said it was kind of rough.”

‟Yeah, I couldn’t sleep, I’m a stomach sleeper and y’all don’t have me any kind of close to that.” Tom voice was stronger.

‟Well, talk to the doc. He is the master of this domain.”

‟Okay. And the pin-happy doctor who poked at me was not helping.” Tom took a deep breath. “I’m kind of hungry, too. Is there breakfast?”

‟Sure thing. The menu is on the TV control attached to your bed. Follow the prompts on the screen and the food will make it here as long as you order in the next twenty-minutes.”

‟Okay, I want a pizza from Alioto’s on the Wharf.”

‟Hah. Good luck with that, but our kitchen makes great food.”

‟I’ll buy pizza delivery for the entire floor today.” Tom croaked out.

‟That’s nice of you Mister Harte, but the Department, I think you mean.”

‟No, I mean the floor. And remember, my name is Tom.”

‟The floor has a dozen stations, you are talking a lot of pizza.”

‟Party hardy Marty. Pizza is coming, I need my phone.”

Laughing Randy left the room.

“I don’t think Randy did not believe I can do that.” He laughed. “He does not know Thomas Harte has both the resources and, even drugged as I am, the will to do it.”

“Kay, dial this number for me please?” His voice was stronger, the power of his soul danced in his eyes. She enjoyed looking into those emerald-green eyes of the writer.

She could see what he had in mind and it made her laugh.

*He has a surprise for everyone on this floor.*

Married by Mistake Chapter 17. Tom’s Thumb

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Chapter 17. Tom’s Thumb

Finals over, Doctor Manga and his staff looked at the image she created from a blank canvas, talked to her at length in the middle of a classroom of other students who needed make-up testing. The written sections were long, but she knew every answer.

Four hours later, she was back at the Wizard, a great weight off her soul while she traced her fingers over the computer and built-in phone charger that Tom would put his mobile phone in and then forget where he put the electronic equipment.

Kaylee sat on the sofa and pondered, her mind she thought would be clear with the finals test over. Was as conflicted as anyone ever could be.

*Ugh. One one hand, he was the most wonderful person I have ever met, all that history on the net even stands up for him.* She rubbed her forehead. *But he is not Glenn, and I have a life to live on my own.*

“Ugh!” The scream and clenched fists,  and she felt no better.

She gave herself a five-minute cry and a few minutes to recover. After she caught her breath, Kaylee walked to her car to drive to the bar and ask if she could get her job back. She hated to go in and beg with her bottom lip poked out and her hat in hand. If that would not work, she knew that another pub down the street that had just opened, only they had already staffed up their positions. It would be difficult to talk her way into the next pub if they had no open positions.

But in the next few minutes, all the plans of job-hunting would soon be forgotten.

The moment she walked out of the metal hanger, her cell phone started ringing. The number was the same one on the business card that Lettie, the owner and driver of the limousine that had taken her to the Stockton airport had given her.

“Hello?”

“Hello, this is Lettie Nesmith, I’m calling for Kaylee .”

“Hi Lettie! This is Kaylee .”

“Kaylee! Hey! Listen, Tom’s been hurt. They took him to the hospital about six-hours ago. Rumor has it that he hurt his hand and they are talking about flying him to San Francisco in a helicopter.”

“Ohmygod” Kaylee said it as if it was a single word. “What happened?”

“My cousin says he hurt his hand. They are sending him to a hospital in San Francisco that specializes in sewing on hands and stuff.”

“Sewing on … His hand? What happened.”

“I don’t know, but no one called you?”

“No, but I have not been getting service. I was in the plane that is inside the hangar.”

“Okay, anyway. You should charter a flight back to Sacramento.” Lettie sounded stressed. ”The sooner the better.”

“I don’t know how to do that.” Kaylee said.

Kaylee could hear papers get shuffled on the other end.

“Okay, don’t worry about it, I will take care of the details. Did you say he had given you a charge card?”

“Oh! Yes! But how do I…”

“Kaylee, I’ll find somebody to call you. I know who Tom deals with when he’s not flying his own planes.”

“I don’t know, I was kind of bitchy to him when I spoke to him last time.”

“It’s up to you. But I saw how you act when you talk about him. Your husband is hurt, it might be serious, and you will to kick yourself later.” Lettie’s voice was like another sister giving support. “I have a driver that is available.”

“Okay. Tell him my number, I’m at the South Harbor Airport.”

“He will pick you up right away, he’s at that same airport.”

She looked out over the tarmac towards the executive jet airlines and started walking to the office.

“Excuse me, miss. But you cannot walk here, are you lost?” It was an airport security officer driving up in an electric cart.

“I’m leaving on a plane, I just left the Pacific Wizard and I received a call to meet a chartered plane here. I’m running over to the office now.”

“Sorry, still, you not allowed to walk here. Walk around on the marked walkway.” He pointed to red, blue, green and yellow painted lines on the ground. “Follow the green line and it will take you to the executive charter lobby.”

“Can I ride with you over there?”

“No ma’am.” He said as he drove off, an alarm sounded on his radio of unauthorized access of the grounds by a car on the far side of the terminals.

Grumbling at how it was that the rules forced her to walk around when she was only had a hundred feet or so in a straight line. It would mean heading in the opposite direction and around.

Looking over her shoulder as she headed out to the walkway gate, the security car sped off after the car trying to enter a clearly marked “Do not enter” area.

She paused for a heartbeat, watching the golf cart race off at the top speed of a fast walk for a few minutes. The guard never looked back.

She took two, then four tentative steps to follow the painted line. Then turned and ran in the straight line to the executive charter office as fast as she could.

* This is an emergency, I can’t stop.*

She skidded to a stop at the back door of the charter office and quickly composed herself.

She put her hand on the door, took a breath and walked in as if she had not just broke the rules.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Chapter 8. Fools Rush In

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Chapter 8. Fools Rush In

Fae noticed his hair was a definite shade of crimson.

“I think we might have to check you for chromosome damage.” She looked at him as he read the display. “The picture of you that shows that you have dark hair.”

“Nope, the color is as it is now. I have red hair. I hate the color, so I had it dyed black. I like a blue-black hair.”

“Why is it shaved off?”

“When I went under, they said to cut it. So I did, then I found they only meant shorter, not shaved.”

“Oh.” Fae laughed. “I can see that happening.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t like the color anymore. Maybe I will let it grow out in the normal color.”

“Could be nice looking.”

“Naw, I look like the Garnet Star with legs.”

Fae laughed out loud. The comments he made in his self-deprecation she saw in his moments where he tinkered at the display, running diagnostics.

“This is frustrating, there is no reason for some of the circuits to overheat. There is a voltage drop somewhere, the cooling system goes into low power mode. I can adjust it manually, but it resets to lower capacity in a few moments.” Archer the Tech pulled at his ear. “I need a bow, some arrows and a place with clearance of fifty of my paces long and half that wide.”

He looked at their escort, a male mini-bot of the name Beekan Luc.

“Can I make a bow out of any of the trees out there?”

The small bot had little to say to the large humans. Often just stood and watched with sapphire blue eyes, saying nothing. His position as the Captain of the Guard made him disdain his assignment. But no one was available to watch over the human pair.

“No. It’s forbidden to destroy the plant and animal life here. You can print anything you need – including any of your food.”

“I would like a corn-dog. But, I’m interested in a simple bow. A longbow or recurve bow with arrows.”

“What is a corndog? I know all the species of felis catus, canis lupus familiaris. But there is no corndog specie I have in my database.”

Both humans laughed.

“It’s a type of food.”

“That seems destructive to a life form.”

“It is.” Archer said. “It is very unhealthy to eat it. But some people have weaknesses for smoke or drink. I have desires for that kind of food.”

“With mustard!” Fae added.

“Oh yeah. Mustard, the brown kind.”

“No, it has to be yellow mustard.”

“I still don’t understand.” The bot looked back and forth.

“It is a hot dog on a stick, dipped in batter and deep-fried.”

“Seems cruel.”

“No, do you know what a hot-dog is?”

“One that stays in the light of day too long in summer.”

The humans laughed again.

“A cylinder of meat, ground and seasoned about the size of, well, your size from foot to head. And a stick poked in one end, dipped in a batter and dipped in a hot vegetable oil until it is hot in the center and crunchy on the outside.”

“Revolting.” Was the comment the Captain of the Guard made. “It sounds like a huge amount of lipids and excessive proteins that would denature into an unhealthy meal.”

“Leave it to a robot to take the fun out of a corn dog.” Archer grumbled.

After submitting a request for a bow, they picked it up with arrows on his specifications.

“Archer, I need to go back to the medical lab while you do your thing with the bow and arrows.”

Fae laughed as she walked away to work while this nerd kind of person suddenly takes on a hobby that seemed steeped in testosterone.

Less than an hour later, an alert sounded in the medical department and a macrobot rolled a gurney with bloodied visage of the computer hardware tech laying on it.

“Alert the neurosurgeon. They say he was on the ground for a few minutes before anyone found him.”

“Oh my.” Fae said, stepping clear while she followed the tones for alerts of cooling of the air circulation.

Later, she stopped in to see Archer, the goose-egg on his forehead was the size of her fist.

“What happened?”

“Mmm…” Reluctant to tell her. “The bow hit me in the face.”

“What?” She shook her head trying to imagine the event. “How?”

“It slipped out of my hand when I was drawing it back to shoot. Then, well, I guess I let go with the wrong hand, and, well, it slapped me in the face.”

Fae started to laugh.

“Well, it’s a hundred-pound bow.”

“Is that a lot?”

“Yes, a lot.” He rubbed his forehead and winced. “I guess I am not in as good of shape as I thought. We still have lost some strength, I suppose.”

Fae shook her head, the thought of him being knocked out by his own bow was one she would have to keep in her logs.

Archer remained in the medical bay for another hour before the med-team imaged his head and found nothing.

This made her laugh even harder.

Handsome, pretty eyes, Irish and proud.

And a person that would need to be taken care of, or he would be in the hospital daily.

Or perhaps he would be a frequent flyer and she would see him often.

A walking disaster, she worried with an inward chuckle.

*Beaten half to death by his own bow and arrow.* She shook her head.*I hope he survives long enough to repair the systems tha are overheating.*

Still, the quirky named hardware tech was a good addition to the engineering team before all the other humans reanimated and walked around.

She would have to speak to Amsi about having Mr. Bowman in the close-knit team to take on the problems that cropped up in ancient circuits that had not seen power for three-hundred centuries, even if the nanobots did repairs over the years.

She smiled at the thought. *He is kind of dork, but he’s smart and funny. He can also help me find…*

She paused for a moment. *Oh god! I can’t remember my own boyfriend’s name!*

A pause.

Laughing, Fae MacLir worked her way back to the medical center to assign the new reanimated humans to new departments.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Generation 3. Chapter 4. Awakenings

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Gen 3. Chapter 4. Awakenings

“Ugh.” His mouth felt like someone stuck an old, used gym-sock in it. Then the pain hit. He tried to squeak again, but his tonsils complained loudly. His voice squeaked like fingernails on a chalkboard. His throat was on fire.

“Amsi. Shhh.” It was a familiar voice. “You will need some hydration, here is some warm water with honey and lemon.”

The first swallow was painful, but heaven followed close behind the swallow. The honey settled on the surface of his throat and put out the fire, the citrus hit, but the pain produced was, while not pleasant, tolerable and worked in concert with the honey for relief.

“Thank you…” Damn! He forgot her name. She was one of his crew, but not one of the engineers.

“Fae.” This was a different voice. Smaller, but with authority and nearby. “Her name is Fae.”

Amsi’s eyes took longer to focus than he thought it should.

“Slowly.” Doctor Ofir’s voice still sounded strange in his ears. “You have been sedated for two days after taken out of stasis. You have spent the last thirty-millenia at just under three-degrees Kelvin.”

“Thirty? We were only supposed to sleep for ten years. What happened?” He blinked again, sipping on the tea of honey and lemon. His eyes focusing more. “What the f..”

He paused.

“No offense but … what are you?”

“We are mini’s. Minibots. You set out to avoid the virus’ that the other system created in the ancient times, created nanobots to recycle all the machines of war. They are still around, but from them, the Core Systems evolved many more sizes.”

“Amsi, I will explain later.”

“I’m still wrapping my head around this… Robot? And how it evolved so quickly.”

“They call themselves “Bots”. They are an evolution that has happened over thousands of years, so not as swift as you think.”

“Wait.” Amsi shook his head, information was not processing. “What?”

“You need some more tea, maybe a shot of rum or vodka. I have a lot to bring you up to speed on.”

For the next two hours Fae spoke of three-hundred centuries, Core System, Thea, the Doctor, the tens of thousands of flitting artificial life forms outside the window that existed with great alloys of the machines of war that the people left sitting out when all, what the Core System logs called “Organics” went into cryogenic vitrification.

Reanimation, the Fae showed Amsi the logs, was a complicated, careful and exacting process using the nanobots and microbots and replacing the cryoprotectants that did not crystallize in ultra-low temperatures.

Even with helium as a superfluid, the crystals of ice did not form and poke holes in the cell walls of the body.

Such was the theory.

Initial numbers used, predictions estimated that one or two may not survive the freezing. (Mathematically, there would be a loss of 1.48 of the personnel.) Estimations were only for a single decade, after three-thousand times longer than anticipated, logs indicated forty-two pods showed excess cryoprotectant in the helium.

The bodies were leaking.

Nanobots, unable to function at such low temperatures were on standby.

However, after a long time, the Core Systems estimated that greater than half the fluids of the organic bodies had leached out. Rendering the humans inside little more than extremely cold, desiccated mummies.

Amsi moaned on the information she passed onto him.

“We were never meant for that length of storage. The system was never designed for that long of operation without supervision.”

“We supervised.” Thea fluttered about. “All systems were under the control of the Core System. Repairs performed by all the bots.”

“There were no qualified humans to oversee the machines.” Amsi the engineer argued.

“Sir. The bots here are as capable as anyone I have seen. They can repair cells and lift whole buildings with the megabots. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they can do what we could.” Fae frowned and pulled at her ear.

“The logs show my brother now weighs less than his clothes. There is only liquid helium in his veins now, as soon as he’s taken out, he’ll crumble like dried out leaf.”

“He still has a PICC line, like we all do.” Fae said. “We can infuse more into it in the chamber, correct?”

“No, I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Maybe. Could be. If we warmed him up to, say, four Kelvin? Special IV tubing would remain flexible and we could flow cryoprotectant into him and refill all the cells over the course of a few days and displace the helium. The helium would be at the boiling point and easy to replace.”

“What if we just replace his fluids as we warmed him up?” She asked.

“No, helium would be gone before any glucose or blood solutions would make it into his body, the cells would collapse like dried out eggshells the moment there is any pressure to refill them.” He rubbed his chin. “That’s not even medical, that is structural engineering. Right now, helium is supporting everything. It has to be a two-stage rehydration. Maybe three.”

“Okay. We warm him up first?”

“No. Oh no. We get the medical teams out first. Just because I understand the process, does not mean I understand the biological effects. What if he has a hole in something important? I can’t sew it up.”

“Oh, I understand.”

“So engineers first, medical folk second, so engineers can make things work, the ones marked here in red, they are last. Medical will need to deal with them as a team with the… What did you call them? Nanobots? But there will need to be a teamwork between everyone. Artificial or Organic.”

“Thank you.” Thea smiled as she sat up in her saddle.

“Thank me for what?”

“You acknowledged us as living beings and are part of a team. Even our nanos.”

“Miss… Uh. “

“Thea.”

“Miss Thea. You make it easy.”

“No. Just Thea.”

“Okay, Just Thea.” He smiled. “You make it easy to feel you are real and alive. We have been here to seek contact with new life. Even if we build it.”

Thea laughed.

“My full name is Wentvie Thea. Our second name is given, our family name comes first.”

“My apologies.” Amsi winked. Then Thea knew she was victim of a human sense of humor. “I will refer to you only as Thea or Miss Wentvie.”

She laughed. It sounded like tiny windchimes.

*Humans waking up,* she felt, *A good thing.*

Generation 3. chapter 3. The Next Day

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Gen 3. Chapter 3. The Next Day

Sleep shed itself slowly from her mind. Strange dreams of small robots that talked with her.

A very odd dream.

Then Fae remembered. It was not a dream, she had this miniature bot that called itself Wentvie Thea.

But now, she was alone, her uniform she had hung with care on the artificial torso that hummed for a half-hour while she took a shower.

A long, glorious shower that seemed to awaken her from the sleep of so long. Longer than the history of humankind when she had taken a transport to this planet.

Then the wars came, her last memory was the classes to warn her about how long her helium immersion would be.

Five years to avoid the virus. Ten years on the outside.

But it was three-thousand times that long before the virus mutated to a non-threat.

On the bench, her underwear waited for her while she used the towel to dry herself, the multiple shower area built for a dozen people to shower at once possessed an air-conditioned and air-drying system that chilled her as she dried the last of the shower off her skin.

Feeling human again, she pulled on her underwear and bra and padded out to where her uniform hung.

A soft, fluttering sound was audible as her little shadow that rode the artificial dragonfly. Thea moved from one room to the other.

“There you are. You were missing.”

“I was taking a shower.” Fae smiled. “It has been a long time since I had that pleasure.”

“I can see you changed your clothing. You have some swellings on your upper torso.”

“I do?” She looked down for anything akin to a blister, then realized. “Those are breasts. All humans have them. On females they’re enlarged compared to those of males.”

“Do they perform some function? The copies we follow is sometimes a problem as it changes the center of balance on the macros, so only our size has them in the female versions. There are many theories why the added weight on the chest is for.”

Fae laughed.

“Breasts…” She laughed again. “Breasts have multiple functions, one is to feed children.”

“Children?” Thea paused. “Offspring? There are no samples of such in any of the humans in the system. Just some records.”

“Well, I think you will have the good fortune to witness them in person if the Core Systems wake all the humans up.” Fae nodded. “If I recall, there are equal numbers of women and men.”

“Yes, roughly, about seven-hundred.”

“Roughly?”

“Some cylinders have failed.”

“Oh my god.” Fae covered her mouth. “We have to wake them up straight away. We start with my boss and get that all started.”

“We need to talk with Doctor Ofir.”

Fae pulled on the body suit and armor. The carbon-fiber plates felt lighter than the previous day.

The shower had performed more magic than she thought. No longer stiff, she felt more human, more supple and stronger. Her muscle tone returned by degrees as she moved.

Even with her body cooled a few degrees above absolute zero, so many years still required recovery. Where she would have been able to warm up and continue in a few hours, she needed more time. More than a day, but now she felt stronger and more alert.

Opening a log, she recorded her recovery and the associated aches and pains that made her feel like…

“Well,” The thought made her laughed at herself, “like I was a thousand years old.”

“Human female,” It was Doctor Ofir Bhabel. “How do you feel today?”

The Doctor flitted around on her own wings, even though there was a golden dragonfly shaped bot below her as she flew up and hovered in front of Fae’s eyes.

“Fae, you can call me Fae.”

“You can call me Doctor Ofir. I do not like my name as assigned by Core Systems. I discovered the human meaning, the Core Systems sometimes show more human traits of humor than I care to say.”

“What does it mean?” Fae blinked.

“I am off my bubble.” The sound of irritation in the small artificial life form’s voice was obvious. “I am crazy. I am not crazy.”

Fae paused for a second.

“Ofir Bhabel. Oh!” She stifled a laugh. “I know who programmed that part of the system.”

“Well it has gotten worse over the years. We have family names of Beekan, a twist on the word bacon, on and on. Some are truly perverse, so we attempt to change them.”

“Change? Your names? But you are bots, aren’t you connected to the Core Systems?”

“Only voluntarily after we have finished with the initial bootstrapping.” The Doctor said. “We use the Core Systems for repairs and communications but little else. We can change our identifier at any time. Many do not. I have not had the urge, I just don’t like my name, but it is in every database in the systems. In the beginning I accessed medical protocols immediately after I came online and… I’m lecturing, aren’t I?”

Fae’s eyes had glazed over.

“Just a little.” She shook her head to clear it. “I mean, Thea said you were a teacher.”

“That is what the root word for Doctor means.” The Doctor nodded, her eyes gleaming with self-awareness.

“I didn’t know that.”

“I taught you something, good. I should teach at least one thing per day.”

Laughing, Fae just shook her head.

“We need to get back to the first question, I feel better than yesterday. Not nearly so fuzzy or stiff.”

“We have evidence that you should feel more improvements as the days go by.” The Doctor nodded. “Only one raised an objection for a possible negative outcome.”

“Spoken like a politician.” Thea said from behind them as she flitted into the room.

“I will banish you from here and fail your internship, you can go to 3-D printing for macros.”

“Sorry Doctor.”

“What is the negative outcome?” Fae asked.

“Well, at this time, we think it is all good. But one of my colleagues Doctor Shorne Sheype worries you may get more flexible and have a breakdown of connective tissue from the freezing process may have weakened your cellular structure.” The Doctor looked at her hands. “You will live, but you will become little more than a puddle with bony lumps.”

“That. Is. Horrible!” Thea said while Fae leaned up against the counter and rubbed her forehead.

“Let’s wake up my boss, we can go from there.”

“He is almost awake, now. His temperature has risen from just under three-kelvin to nearly your body temperature, which we assume is normal as of this point.”

“Excellent. Can we go see him?”

“First, you must eat this square of carbohydrate plant product. The Core Systems called it Chocolate. It follows an old recipe that’s supposed to decrease incidents of depression.” The Doctor took a pack off the little dragonfly she rode. “Your boss? He is still under sedation, we will keep him asleep longer than we did with you. He will awaken a day later than you did, to give his body time to adjust to oxygen and being thawed. We will flex his appendages and hydrate him.”

“Awesome! Let’s get it done.”

The trio walked out of the room and down the hallway to the lab where future humans would awaken.

Arrival Home, Dogs go Ape.

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A week in Reno and surrounding area while I stayed at the sister’s house while she has about a pound of hardware that held her ribs together from her event of a (Near) Total Body Crunch.

Papa Dash had a surgery. Officially “Outpatient.” but it took 4 days from Friday to Monday before I took the old warrior home. (To my sister’s house where he was staying for the time being with Mama Dash who has her own issues. More on her later.)

So, we have one family member in the hospital for surgery, lasting until Monday, to which sister goes in for surgery, the SAME day. 0.o Okay… We can handle this. I stay at her house, sleeping on the sofa- and I am pounced by a lonely 11-year-old girl who falls in love with Archery– and we shoot until my arms fall off.

Meanwhile Mama Dash who has ongoing back pain -pain that no one can seem to track down- hurts her back again after twisting while sitting on the foot of the bed.  A sudden swelling on the vertebra below the line of the shoulder blades was palpable. *sigh* Mark it with a felt tip pen and let’s go to the ER and get it evaluated. Probably a torn muscle related to the previous pain. Possibly related?  A disk rupture? I don’t know, only an x-ray to find out. I don’t have such installed in my fingertips.

At the ER, things go from bad to worse and the Emergency Doctor transfers Mama Dash to a medical center for comprehensive testing and followup – possibly with an oncologist.

So now, papa Dash is not eating (“Everything Tastes BITTER. I have to force myself to eat.”  … Um, okay.  But overdosing on fruit is unwise. And it came to pass… that yup.  Too many banana’s, etc etc.  Do make things run faster. And RUN is what he does, get the heck out-of-the-way!)

Sister came home on Friday, 11-year-old did the archery with me on the last day and then Xbox to 1:45 in the freakin’ morning when she learned mom was well enough that it was time for me to go home.

But I could not tell her “no” or go to bed. We have had a good time this week and she is lonely with a 15-year-old sister with a social life and friends with cars. Dad is working overtime to cover costs of deductible and copay. Mom is in the hospital, so is gramma, grampa is with gramma.

That leaves the weird uncle with the pointy sticks and bows.  We built the Zombie Snowman (our name for it.) and shot uncountable times. Even got the 15-year-old sister to spend time with us.  She is also hooked. Lol. they have a JOAD team in the school, so I will have some competition next time I go there. lol.

Then time to go home.  A three-hour tour of the beautiful mountains with big clouds and occasional showers. Cool temps, taking deep inhales of cedar, redwood, pine scented high mountain air with a touch of lightning to scent it all.

Then I dive down into the Big Valley. (Look up the TV series of the same name with Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Majors, Richard Long, Linda Evans and Peter Breck) and into the heat. Blech.. I’ll go back to Nevada where the temps are cooler.

BUT!

The dogs start bouncing.  Honey the honey colored dog sits on me, Hershey the Chocolate labrador just pushes her way in. there is no such thing as a still hand. You can put it on her head, scritching does not get it, must MUST be a pat and rub.

Honey, she has her tongue out. Palm wide, two palms long.

“Human, you have been missing, I have to coat you in my saliva to make it better.”

Hah. She sits on me for awhile then goes to lay down in the coolest part of the house- a hardwood floor with a breeze.

Later, I walk outside to water the corn, sunflowers, and pumpkins.  She is watching me so I stomp my foot at her in the universal play language of dogs. “Gonna get you!”

She is “Game ON! Human-who-has-been-missing! Attack!”

Suddenly my arms, hands, feet, legs, are her personal chew toys, she hits me in the chest time and again while I put her into a head lock.

This goes on for a few minutes, then it is off to grab a toy and dance out of my reach every time I try to take it from her to throw.

I assume she wants me to throw it.  But then she keeps it away, until I ignore her then she jumps close and barks at me with a muffled “Woof”.

It is fun to have been missed. So now she sleeps with her head on my foot. her body half in-half out the sliding glass door.

That really looks uncomfortable over the threshold.

Anyway.  waiting for reports on the scans on Mama Dash, Papa Dash has agreed to eat more lean protein and get some complex carbs in.  I suggested Archery (I think I covered that before) but it won’t come to pass, so long as mom is in the hospital.  Food yes.  Archery? Yeah…not so much.

On well.  Honey dog just decided to drop a ball on me and is wagging her tail.  I have to throw it before she starts barking.

Then back to writing that I have been circumvented by an eleven year old who is lonely during the summer. (all her friends went out-of-state and the one that’s left is “always busy”)

I’ll post something soon.

Not counting my High Mountain Adventures.

your fave Up and Coming Author

Dash

Archery, zombie snowmen in the desert and chocolate bars.

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Help! I have been kidnapped by a 60 pound, eleven year old girl who has fallen in love with archery!

I spent a few hours with her talking about parts of the recurve bow, the string. How to shoot and stand.

Her first shot did not make it to the target. (10 paces away) so we moved closer- 5 paces. Next shot. Bullseye!

She was addicted!

Ut-oh! She IS addicted.  I have obtained a new longbow a few weeks ago and I am still working on drawing it after a 24 shot series without trembling.

Yesterday? I thought my arms were going to fall off.  I could not type, my shoulders ached, my fingers of my right hand are SORE. I think we loosed over, well over, 100 arrows yesterday. The only time we stopped, here in the high desert of Nevada. When it got too warm.

So we went inside where she made me some hot chocolate with the multi-use coffeeish maker. (They come in pods.) So..that was okay, I did some coffee in the chocolate, to which she went “eww!”.

So we came in to play xbox until the sun moved- and back out we went!

She got her sister’s compound bow, but after two shots, she went back to the recurve. Sister will be shooting with us today, so maybe not so much shooting?

Hah.  yeah. right.

So, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, cold packs and maybe I can talk them into a Lord of the Rings marathon. (Don’t think that will happen, not when the bows are sitting out.)  So I will attempt to write this AM and get you folks entertained.  I am already working on my third cup of coffee, it is quiet, someone is up, but I don’t know who just yet. But I will take advantage of the quiet of the morning.

If someone can shush that rooster outside that would be great! I’d threaten to shoot it, but I don’t think I can draw the bow right now! Ugh!

Moment of release

Moment of release. Note arrow in flight just in front of the bow.

We still need to work on her form, but we are having lots of fun for now.

Well, SHE is. *I* am in pain…

*Insert emotional music here*

Sister Sledge is doing well, due for release from the hospital tomorrow.  Papa Dash is nearly back on his feet after the surgery. He has been driving around in his truck. Has his leather cowboy hat on. (Seems a lot of his hair has migrated from his head to his back. I wonder… can they transplant back-hair to the head? Would that work? Hmm… AND it still has color. Although a bit darker than his original hair.)

Mama Dash is trying to be stubborn and not go to the Doctor, but the Great King has brought down the hammer. She is going. End of discussion. His eyes got a bit sparkly in that moment where you know that someone is about to be grounded (or worse) as a kid.

Anyway.  I have to keep him from doing too much. I might introduce them both to the world of archery.  It has muliptle benefits.

1. After the initial expense, it is relatively cheap. you reuse the arrows, not counting broken ones. (that’s the main cost)

2. Shooting is good for the core strength. Keeps your mind focused.

3. AFTER you shoot and do the isometric exercise of resistance pulling, you have to go get those pointy sticks! So there is a walk to the target, pulling and walk back. A second benefit!

4. Recurve bows are lightweight. Not like the machines of compounds which I find can be heavy(not always, there are the more expensive ones that are quite light). Plus with a take-down recurve, you can change limbs and draw weights. So if Mama Dash can’t pull, or has gained strength, more limbs and not an entire bow needs be purchased.

So that is the end of my rave for archery. shotgun, Rifle and Pistol shooters? Worry not, I am not dissin’ you. My aim (hah!  Not intended but I like the pun, so it stays) is for quiet and reusability. Difficult to recover your bullet and shot for reuse time after time.

Anyway.  Wish us luck, I hear that Honey the Honey colored dog is moping around, missing me. (I don’t know why, I am not her human. Princess #1 is.)  She is sleeping on the laundry I did but did not put away before I left, just sat it in the basket in front of my dresser. Now the basket has become a bed for a 90 pound yellow dog.

really? Most of my clothes are dark. Guess I get to do laundry again.

Okay, sending this away so i can do fiction before I’m kidnapped again.

Wish me luck!

Dash

PS. Nearly forgot Zombie Snowmen. We piled targets up on each other. A large white “body” with a dark, weather-beaten head.  You can see the body and head in the image, we put it up top after the image was taken. It is a zombie because we are in the desert which is deadly to snowmen. So this one is ‘undead’. lol. part of the story.

“Outpatient” Surgery

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Do I believe it? There should be “Truth in advertising” rules for some things that the good doctors do.

Outpatient surgery should be relabeled Almost Outpatient Surgery.  After a 4 hour outpatient surgery.

“In and out.” Yeah?

Okay, FOUR days later, we are still looking forward to being discharged. Papa Dash has his history of a thrill, where they started yelling “Code Blue!”.

Sister is due into the hospital for surgery tomorrow… ALSO “Outpatient”. Do I stay?  Hang out and see if she ends up in the hospital for a few nights? Support the brother-in-law with THREE invalids, and 3 children? (Mama Dash is not doing well, either with a wrenched back.)

We’ll see.  I am at their disposal. After I post this, I will write some more fiction.

Papa Dash is feeling spunky, walking around with his IV pole, hitting the bathroom hourly.  His kidneys have kicked in full force.

To the MD that figured out that the “Bleeders” that were causing some problems with a bloody mess every hour or so, thank you, the proper idea at the moment stopped all the leaks.

Papa Dash, his dire thirst has come to an end, chapped lips, parched mouth.  With Mama Dash’s wrenched back, a poor reaction to narcotics the twenty-four hours before and he did not eat or drink much if anything before he had to fast. PD went into surgery extra dehydrated, then all the excessive bleeding drained him some more. (IV Replacement fluids to blood are not a 1:1 ratio)

Then tonight, they(Nurses) got tired of my talking with Papa Dash after visiting hours and booted me out. XD Well, he is hard of hearing so my use of the “Inside voice” doesn’t work.

Anyhow.  Back to the task of writing.

Well, not a task, the thrill of writing. It is something I like to do. 🙂

Hope you do, too.

The Lunch break

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The lunch break

Doctor Nickosla Jones, Trauma surgeon of the St. Osmium Medical Center sat with a cup of coffee and a dry toasted english muffin. The shift had been severe. A cold night after a snow filled month and then a couple warm days.

Black ice had taken a toll on the average person. The latest victim, an elderly professor at the Ion University, walked out his drive with a bar to break up the ice, and slipped.

The on-scene EMS crews there put the unconscious instructor of physics on a helicopter and flew him straight to the St. Oz’s with posturing, and a subarachnoid bleed that they recognized straight away.

The only question was how long the injured man lay on the ice, out if sight of the house and anyone from the street. Only when his wife noticed he had not left for his early classes did she walk outside and discover her husband of two-millenia, two centuries and six-decades, laying in a freezing pool of blood from the laceration on the back of his head.

The surgery had been long and draining. The bleeding and fractures to the skull were not his only problems, spinal pressure from the neck injury complicated the treatment protocols as the teams moved from one problem to the next.

Finally, they closed and the patient went to the recovery, one alarming moment, the patient’s blood pressure dropped alarmingly, Nick and the other fellows rushed in, and after an intense hour, restored homeostasis as much as possible.

Professor Hecate Budd still was alive.

And Doctor Jones was tired.

No, not tired. Exhausted.

And he still had an hours drive home to do.

He was debating about going to the local hotel down the street and just logging some sleep for a few hours when he looked up and saw him.

White hair, a goatee that he kept well-trimmed and the affectation of the silver-handled cane that he started to carry in the long-ago past.

“Good job,” The one called Finis said, handing a latte to the Doctor. “Your patient will live, in spite of going horizontal for about a half-second.”

The goatee widened in a smile. Sparkling eyes shown behind the rose-colored glasses.

“Yeah, but he was fixing to die on us up there.”

“That medic on scene did a good job, he called it on the money by putting him in a helicopter and flying him here.” Finis nodded. “Besides, he had you. That made all the difference.”

A pretty young woman came up and tapped Finis on the shoulder and held up a tablet computer that Finis tapped on names.

“He has family waiting. Take his wife to him.” Finis nodded. “That will help.”

The woman nodded and tapped on the tablet.

Another name, she handed the tablet back to her boss and let him read it.

“This is expected.” Finis frowned. “You did not need to bring this to my attention. She will be leaving soon, family is on their way.”

“Sorry, the calls never quit.” He apologized to Nick.

“No, no. Don’t apologize, I know as well as anyone.” Nick sipped the fresh coffee and steamed milk.

“Yes, you do, as anyone in the center here knows. You are well taught and talented, but they are still overwhelmed.” Finis shook his head. “The hospital’s understaffed. When was the last time you took a day away from this house of craziness.”

“Yeah, well, it is the path I chose a long time ago.”

“Right after you nearly drowned.”

“Yeah. That was the first time I met you.” The doctor said.

“Well, it was a good meeting. It pushed you in the direction you took in school.” Finis looked around as the woman approached again from the hallway. No one noticing her except the two men. “You were a bit of drug-oriented rebel in those days.”

The woman spoke in Finis’ ear again, slipping the tablet into his hands.

“No, this is not right.” He shook his head. “His schedule is not yet finished, he’s scheduled for another week of therapy, then I have to go talk to him.”

She nodded and walked off to do her boss’s bidding.

“The same lecture I gave you when you were being stupid and jumped off that bridge into the river, I am giving to this young man. Unlike yours were at that age, his options are limited. He has not finished school and he’s twenty with a damaged liver.”

“He still could become something.”

“Perhaps you should talk to him.” Finis shook his head. “If I do it, he will have bladder incontinence issues for a week.”

“Not going to handle him gently, old man?” Nick chuckled and took a bite of his dry toast.

“Two things.” Finis gave a crooked smile. “One, I am always gentle. But I will get my way, no one says no to me for very long. And TWO, do not call me old.”

Nick chuckled. Both those statements were true. No one could deny the handsome gentleman that sat at the table sipping on his own latte.

Finis stood six-foot tall, his white hair hung to his shoulders when loose, but often he kept it pulled back into a pony-tail.

Broad at the shoulder, large of bicep and narrow at the hip, the effect was one of a Santa Claus that spent too much time in the gym. He really did not need the affectation of the cane he used to disarm people as a grandfatherly type.

And he was hysterical to listen to when he was working, always looking at a bright spot that no one expected and could poke fun at it.

Only once did he see the keeper of the cane become angry, it was not a pleasant thing to see. The doctor learned that the subordinate involved ended up being a yard watcher at a bone-yard.

Looking at a young man reading a comic book, Finis sighed at the graphic of a cloaked monster with a scythe in hand.

“I wish, someday that I could entrust this job to someone else, then I could talk to children of the views they find in those, “ Finis paused looking for the words. “Graphic novels. Are not entirely accurate.”

He shook his head.

“Well, people do have a fear of a lot of things.”

“Yes,” Finis agreed. “But as a doctor, do you find them afraid of you?”

“Sometimes. I tell them the truth and they don’t always like it.”

“When I tell them the truth,” Finis grumbled. “They don’t believe me.”

The woman returned with the pad, but this time she had a worried look.

“Mister Sierra.” The only words she said as she handed Finis the tablet.

“Of course, he has no one. I need to go talk with him.” Finis signed the tablet and handed it back to her. “Nick, you did a fine job. The professor will leave this medical center on his own power. Don’t worry. I am not scheduled to meet with him for a long while yet.”

Looking back at the comic book the boy held.

“Maybe I should change my cane for something else? They make the cane into an edged weapon and I have no face.”

“Or a skull.” Nick nodded grimly. “You have to admit, you have a tough job.”

Nodding Finis stood up, shaking Nick’s hand. Old friends, Nick had met him when he nearly died as a teenager, the white-haired, smiling man directed him to medicine to do so much good.

Now, Nick felt a little sorry for him. Overworked and under-appreciated, the Angel of Death walked out of the cafeteria. A soul that hated his job and took it to heart that no one wanted to meet with him.

Always scheduling family to walk with the dearly departed, or walking with someone so they never made the trip alone, telling jokes or having conversations with them the entire journey. He was good at his job, and he hated it so much.

Doctor Jones shook his head and got up, the irony of it all was not lost on him.

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Dragonmaster University Chapter 34.The Morning after with laughter.

Jona slowly became aware of the sound of a heartbeat. Sprite moved around in his arms on the verge of wakefulness.

He had hoped to sleep late, after yesterday, but the school had burned into his brain the need to be at class, on time, every time.

Professor Vale, he thought, had used the power of the suggestion, to make an alarm clock in his head.

Kolo woke with her hand over Jona’s heart feeling the beat of the muscle all night long. The healing nature of dragons helped the human’s overtired muscles as he slept all night without moving.

Jona slowly tried to extricate himself from Sprite and Kolo, then he became aware that Kolo was awake and watching him try to move Sprite to the pillow covered in a curly, soft hair that reminded him of a Llamadoodle, a hypoallergenic hybrid of a camalid and a wool-bearing canine.

Dreading his exit from Kolo’s bed, he hurt so bad the night before. His feet hit the floor…

And it was as if he had done nothing strenuous at Professor Vuul’s class!

He stretched, a glorious, long, tingling stretch that made his whole body feel ready for anything. The robe caressed his skin as he moved, it was the most comfortable morning to wake up he ever experienced.

“Feel better?” Kolo asked in a soft voice.

Jona held a finger up to his lips, pointing at Sprite. Who promptly jumped up and crawled up his arm with lightning speed, squeaking “Mo-da! Mo-da!”

“Da?” Jona asked.

“Dad.” Kolo laughed.

“OKay, I need to go to my room, any way I can go there without being seen?” Jona looked out the door self-consciously.

“No one cares, at this level.” Kolo opened the door and walked out wearing her nightclothes. “You do not need to worry about the whispers and embarrassment. That is a human invention in some societies. In the dragon society, we sleep together often. Or have you not paid attention to your dragon studies?”

“Well, yeah, I just.” Jona looked out the window. “I never had this happen to me.”

“Jona.” Kolo caressed his cheek. “Nothing happened, you were in a healing cuddle. Dragons do it all the time, how do you think we live so long? Two dragons can heal each other better than one dragon can. If alone, a single dragon spins a cocoon and sleeps, the healing happens there, and we can share the healing touch.”

“I know.” Jona smiled. “I felt no pain when I got up, as bad as I hurt last night, this morning was great.”

“Good, we can do it again more often?” Kolo tilted her head to the side. Her eyes, more human than many dragons, still glittered like cut glass when she was enjoying something. “We could, y’know, see each other daily.”

“I… Uh…” Jona looked like a child caught sneaking one of his mothers fresh cookies.

“Go on, you.” Kolo laughed. “You cannot tell when you are having your mind messed with.”

Jona laughed nervously and walked out into the hall, towards his room, some thirty steps away.

His classes started in an hour, he still should eat breakfast before heading to his class on human-dragon history, then back to Professor Vuul’s smite shop and his turn back at the bellows.

The bellows, buried in his memory cells, was a full body workout. The Professor let him heat up and beat on some metal, but the Professor chose the hammer, a hammer nearly as long as Jona’s forearm. It was another three-hour workout scheduled that proscribed by Hephaestus in his textbook of metal sciences.

It would be a shower again tonight, maybe Kolo was right. Cuddling with her to heal would prepare him for the class five days a week.

THAT was something Jona would look forward to.

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa was worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless with the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs were smudged and dust covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a comptitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him for a moment from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider agian. In one instant, he had a chance and he pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

Excerpt: Children of Fury, Chapter 20. Old School Medicine

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(Setup: Beli O’Danu, shot with an arrow and is bleeding to death. The knowledge of the Draoithe (Irish Druid) are what stands between him and death.)

20. Old School Medicine

Donal continued to help his old friend down the path to the river. Conn with his father’s arm around his neck helped to partly carry and partly drag the elder O’Danu to where the two men directed.

“Here! Put me down, here.” Beli grunted painfully, as they came to a clearing.

Beli’s shirt was sticky with clotted blood and matted with a paste of moss and herbs he had smeared on his own chest. Putting the poultice where the arrow protruded, the herbs had slowed the bleeding.

“Conn, collect some wide-flat rocks and build a small fire.” Said Donal as he went down to the riverside and began selecting plants with a critical eye. “Clean and heat the rocks over the fire until the water cooks off.” The High-Priest directed while he searched for those plants needed to save his friend’s life.

Beli wheezed out orders to Conn on what rocks to look for. Donal returned with an armful of roots, twigs and herbs with fleshy leaves, setting them down on the ground, he began to wash his hands in the clear water of the stream, cleaning the mud off his fingers.

Conn collected several large, flat rocks, about the size of his two spread hands, he cleaned them well with clean water and placed them near the pile of twigs and leaves.

While Donal was sweating from his exertions of grinding the leaves and the moisture from the herbs had mixed with the bark that he had collected in a small mortar and pestle into a smooth dough like texture. Time was short and his friend’s life hung in the balance. The longer they took, the weaker Beli was getting.

Conn started the fire with the use of flints, gently blew on the ember that he had been able to spark. With the growing fire. Conn began to wash two stones near the stream, cleaning the stones with a soapwort rub, then washed with water until it was clear. Then, with the fire burning hotly, Conn put the two stones near the flames to dry.

Conn’s father-in-law made himself as comfortable as possible, kneeling near the fire, putting a collection of bark and herbs on one of the rocks that had a concave surface, then began to press the medicines together with a small well used silver rolling-pin.

As Donal pressed the juices from the succulent greens he had just picked, chosen with an expert eye, Conn watched closely as the elder Draoi crushed and mixed the ingredients with the experience that would let him watch for the proper texture and color of ingredients.

Placing more herbs, Donal continued to grind the organic bits together on the hot rock, the mixture sizzled and put off a strong smoke that made him blink and cough.

“It is better at an alter, the smoke does not drift into my face so I can use it for bandages and not choke or blind me.” Donal coughed again. His voice quavered slightly and he cleared his throat, getting back to his task.

Conn suspected, however, that not all the tears were from the smoke.

Conn helped Donal by slowly pouring water over the tops of the rocks with a small silver cup that the elder Draoi handed him. While Donal tore a leaf apart and began to mix it with water, heating it until it bubbled.

Donal touched a branch taken from a willow tree to the mixture, the thick, hot viscous liquor coated it cooled on the smoothed carved twig.

Beli, who had been watching this turned his eyes down the path, Gael, Conn’s mother and teacher walked towards them from the ocean where they had taken refuge from the advancing armies of Parliament.

Several of the women burst out in tears at the sight of the wounded Beli laying on his back, only to have the Gael silence them with a wave of her hand.

“Time now is not for tears! Now is the time to repair and save a life. We need the finest, clean linen that anyone has.”

Gael invoked her title as a High Priestess, the Ard-Draoi. The Baker family who were Druid Priests and Priestesses of the Scots, the name of Baker had a huge influence wherever they walked and Gael was not to trifle with when it came to her knowledge of the Draoithe.

From within a pouch she carried at all times, Gael produced smaller bags of salts and knelt by Donal who looked up and nodded. Taking several small bags laid them next to the fresh herbs that Donal had collected.

Niamh, Conn’s mother-in-law and High Priestess in her own right, directed the women to gather strips of clothing to prepare for dressings. Setting down her own bag of collected medicinal herbs that exceeded Gael’s in the form of infection control herbs.

Niamh took a handful of linen from Anne MacNamara, who had grabbed anything she could while running from the advancing troops. The clothing was the best she had, giving it up to the priestess who had the intense look and a sense of urgency not seen before. Anne was not about to cross Niamh the healer.

Walking with the armful of dresses, Niamh stopped and pulled up some roots of a nearby plant. At the stream, tearing strips out of the clothing that Anne had given her, Niamh began to wash the makeshift bandages in the clear water of the river while she ordered the other women to build a fire nearby.

Gael nodded to herself as she directed what kinds of plants to use for the fire. The three Draoi worked together with intensity to save the life of their friend and mate, for what was about to come was the hardest and most difficult part for them to do.

Beating the strips furiously with a stick over one of the rocks that Conn had gathered, the plants and cloth formed a thick lather that Niamh instructed the helping women, including her friend Gael to rinse out in the flowing clear water for some minutes until all the water flowed clear of the strips. One after another Gael and Niamh inspected the linen strips carefully. Those that passed inspection were hung to dry in the smoke of the slow fire that they built using bundles of incense gathered by the remaining women and children. The smoke of the herbs, they explained, prevented infection later.

These treated linens Gael handed Conn, instructing her son to hold them by the corners and not to interrupt her while she was explaining how to do what he needed to do.

Detached from the activities that would save his life, Beli laughed silently, no matter how old her son was, he was still Gael’s child and would follow her directions.

Conn, used to giving orders and being in charge  bowed to his mothers sharp tongue and the father-in-law’s orders of what to do and how to do it.

As Beli lay on the ground, weakly moving his hands as if to guide the operation. A dozen of the villagers that had found refuge among the bluffs of the shore worked furiously to gather herbs under the directions of Donal and the Priestesses. Few had time to stand and watch, praying for the injured elder while they foraged for the needed herbs. So many had died that day, no one wanted to watch another one of their own also pass at the hands of the Parliament’s Agents.

“By the stones!” Beli wheezed out, his agitation growing with the pain. “This is beginning to seriously hurt!”

“It is going to hurt more before it gets better old friend, “Donal knelt next to Beli, “this might have been easier if I had the Spoon of Diokles with me, but that all burned with the village.”

Beli tried to interrupt but Donal shushed him.

“Yes, I have the Saultis Ominus nearly ready. Yes, our wives have the dressings nearly dry over the fire and clear of bad airs. Yes, we have the proper herbs.” Donal pressed a finger to the wounded man’s lips. “Shut up and rest.” There was no appeal to Donal’s command.

Then Donal’s tone softened as he touched his friend on the shoulder.

“Beli, to take this spike out of your chest will be difficult and the wound is deep.”

“I have made it this far,” Beli looked slowly around at the mountains and then the sky. “I’m ready to do this. This is hurting more with each breath. But I am not coughing up blood, my fingers are not white at the nails, if it has caused a hole where the blood flows, it is plugging it up now. When you pull it out, it will unplug the hole like a bung from a barrel. Then I would be dead before you could stop the bleeding.” Beli wheezed painfully.

“Beli,” Donal said softly.

“I know…” Grimacing against the pain he interrupted as he grabbed at his old friend’s chest, “I cannot live with this in and every moment it is in me, the more damage and the more pain it causes. It must come out, one way or another. It is good that it is you, you have the best knowledge to do this. You have pulled these out of men before during battles.”

Donal nodded, mixing the dried and powdered herbal potion with the smallest amount of water to mix a paste on the cleaned linens. Conn brought some powdered leaf over on the warm rock with the willow branch, now cut by Gael who carefully heated the twig over the fire until it turned color, she was careful as not to burn the wood as it would be ruined, and Gael did not have time to prepare a new branch.

Taking the remaining uncooked paste, Donal smeared the pungent mixture over his hands. Donal who wrinkled his nose at the smell.

“It tingles my hands and burns my nose — Aye, it is a strong mix. This will either cure you or kill you old friend!”

“Where is my bite rag?” Beli groaned. “Be good and sure it has the medicine in it.”

Conn brought the linen pouches that they made up for the procedure. One, moist but light in weight and green, the other that was heavier but dry and colored tan. Careful to kneel next to his mother as he held them out to Gael on a cleaned rock, who took the light one and handed the larger, heavier tan wrap to Donal who set it along on the edge of the heated rock.

Donal nodded at Gael and Beli, everything was ready.

“Put it in your mouth. Beli, bite down a few times.”. Gael gave no room for debate as she looked down at her husband, holding the thumb sized green rag to his lips.

“I know what to do!” Said Beli, with his voice muffled by the green linen bag.

“Shush and chew, husband.” She kissed his forehead. “Before I thump you.” The threat was without weight of malice. The only emotion she let be obvious, sharp she might be, he was the love of her life.

Donal looked at Conn, “I will need you to pack the wound with the flat of the willow-branch there. Scoop up the powder and dump it in and around the hole after I remove the spike until the bleeding stops or there is a pile over it. If he bleeds too much, your father will not stand a chance. But I venture an opinion that it has missed his vitals.”

One last breath Donal braced himself, wrapping his hand around the iron neck of the arrow-bolt, he held it for a moment, looking into the eyes of his friend and son-in-law’s father. Beli had become quiet. He had a familiar, dreamy look on his face and an odd glazed look in his eye that showed that he was already in an induced sleep.

“No pulsations from the shaft, this is a promising sign. Okay, straight out and easy.” Donal said quietly.

“Niamh, Conn hold on to his arms. Gael, keep him calm.” Drawing a deep breath, he looked at his old friend. “Beli, see you on the other side my brother.”

A gentle pull and Beli became wide-eyed with a grunt as the pain exploded through him. Gripping the green grass underneath him tightly.

“Keegan! Keegan! Tá brón orm! Fill ar ais go dom mo garmhac! Tar ar ais chugam!*” Beli screamed.

(*Keegan! Keegan! I am sorry! Return to me my grandson! Come back to me!)

Gael, kneeling at Beli’s head squeezed red juice from a cloth with bark and berries into her husband’s mouth, the extra plant extract calming him further. Taking care that Beli would not stop breathing under the narcotic effects of the herbal medicines, the effects were rapid and predictable.

Donal kept pulling, not letting up and not letting go for worry that it would do more damage as it returned to its resting place. But, if he pulled too hard it would cause a suction that could kill his patient.

Moments passed and the shaft did not move. Then slowly as Donal applied a little more pull on the arrow, it began to back out. Imperceptibly at first as sweat beaded on Donal’s forehead, then the arrow shaft started to move steadily backwards out of the chest of his best friend and family member.

It was out the length of a fingernail. Dried blood on the shaft was the marker how deep it had been.

“Pour some powder around the base of the shaft.” Donal told Conn.

“Keep him from moving his head as much, he flexes his muscles here and in his back when he moves. It is making it difficult and more painful.” Donal admonished Gael as he kept the tension on the shaft.

Width of a finger out.

The dart began to slide out of the wound more easily, the tapered shaft, Donal thanked the Gods it was not a broad head. Built with socket-fitted tip on the wooden arrow.  They forged the tip to penetrate armor and then wedge in the metal skin with the wood fibers, made for piercing armor and disabling but it was not efficient at killing.

Wisdom held that it took more men of the enemy to remove the wounded from the field of battle than to tend the dead. Those that were left then would have the archers come down and the killing would be done with knife, sword or ax on the battlefield.

Two fingers width of arrow withdrawn.

“More powder, get the cloth ready to staunch the bleeding.” A small trickle of blood was visible. Donal had one hand on the patients chest, pushing while the other hand pulled on the iron neck of the arrowhead.

With a wet sucking sound, the needle sharp arrowhead came out of Beli’s chest.

“Now, pour some powder in the hole and cover it up with the cloth and press firmly, until I tell you to stop.” Donal told Conn, “Not TO hard! Don’t break your father’s ribs. He won’t like that.”

His hand firmly over the hole and watching the blood soak into the cloth as he pressed directly on the wound, Conn was now sure that the old man was going to live. Donal carefully put down the blood-slicked spike. It was well made, fortune was with them, no barbs or splinters anywhere on the edges and no bleeding salts had been on the shaft. Donal did not cause more damage with the removal. The arrow did all the insult to the body at the moment when it entered his chest.

Turning back, “You can take your hand away,” Donal covered Conn’s hands and smiled. “apprentice, you have done well! You teach us how to build ships, we will teach you, yet, about herbs, medicines and how to heal.” Donal said as he dressed the wound with the bandages prepared by the women.

Conn chuckled, it had been a long time since anyone dared call him an apprentice, but here? Here he was well outside of his normal circles. Looking at his mother, she smiled at him, making him feel young again.

“You did well, Conn.” Croaked Beli, “Don’t you agree, Gael?”

“Shush, you old shoe.” Gael looked down at him. “You made me a near widow, when you are fit I will make you fear me more than death, enough to step away from any arrow. I will not do this again with you! I’ll find me a handsome young man and toss you out!”

Tears were in her eyes as she spoke, there was no conviction in the words. He might be an old shoe, but he was hers and she took care of all her belongings. She was the queen of collecting in the family and her family was her prize collection, Conn her only child and Beli her only mate. They taught and treated together many children and people, every day it was another family that needed to help a child born into the world or a negotiation between clans. Gael’s family was her soul.

Donal opened a pouch withdrew a couple of stones, setting one aside, then another.

“No, wrong effect. This one is wrong, too. There! This one.” Then with a skilled touch, Donal began to grind a small chip into a powder.

Conn looked and recognized a few of the stones in the pouch, many he did not.

“Bloodstone, feldspar, rubháid bairestone. What is this?”

“That, my son, is ‘Sruthfola’, it can cause severe bleeding. Only used in scant amounts to keep blood thin to promote healing on some injuries.” Beli whispered, “Or stuck into someone to cause them bleed for a long, long time without stopping.”

Conn looked at his father, he was still glassy-eyed from the herbal cloth that Gael pushed into his mouth, but he was still awake and able to talk.

“Dittany, is a plant that stops bleeding and promotes healing. I’ll be well enough in a day.” Moaned Beli, his voice a bit stronger now.

“NO! Beli! I will thump you!” Growled Gael, pulling her husband of so many seasons down to his back by an ear. “You will heal and rest.”

“She’s right. No herb or magic can take the place of healing. Magic can fix the problem, but the body must go back in balance.” Donal said to Beli, he would not dare oppose Gael now in any case.

“Then catch up with my son. He is walking with that look in his eye again. He is thinking of something.”

The Golden Hour

Standard

The Golden Hour

The water was cold while washing the rescue-ship in the shadow of trees in the first hour after sunrise, such is the beginning of any shift in the high mountains with the remote station.

A three-day shift began on Rescue-Medic-10. For two-hundred Terran years it had been the base for rescues in the wilderness of the planet’s northern hemisphere. It was a planet just coming out of an ice-age, giant glaciers still were visible in the distance, miles thick, they still retreated up to one-hundred meters per planetary year. A few faster, many slower, still the settlers from the home world would forge a living in the spreading alpine-forested world. 

A planet where summers were torrid in the sunlight, but had a chill in the shade of any tree. The winters were brutal, cold and slightly longer than the summer. Autumn and spring were the growing periods and long as a year on earth. 

Once rocky and barren, not so much as a microbe had been found with probes, introducing cyanobacterium and land-plants four-centuries before had caused a spike in oxygen that surpassed that of the normal twenty-one percent Terran air quickly, becoming an energetic twenty-eight percent in the four centuries since humans planted in the thick atmosphere.  

The planet, chosen for atmospheric manipulation as the stellar system that surrounded the orange-dwarf star was emerging from a dense cloud of space-debris that had blocked the radiation and heat from the planets sun.

‟Incident assigned.” Came the sound from the station-wide speakers.

‟Long fall, male fell from roof of structure, approximately five meters.”

The crew of three moved to their vehicle, a ducted-fan vertical-lift airship warmed up and lifted off.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten responding.” Justin Timeagain spoke into the mic-boom of his helmet. Long a medic in the wilderness, once he had gone to earth and had spent a few years in the black-paved forests that were the cities before returning to the planet of Sunkissed-two with stories of horrors on man versus man over the price of stale beer.

‟ETA five minutes.” Rajish Coriolis said.

‟Copy Rescue-Medic-Ten.” The disembodied voice came over the earphones. ‟Incident update, victim is on the ground but sitting up, reporting party states that victim has an altered level of consciousness and is not speaking clearly.”

Justin and Rajish looked at each other. Rajish, the best pilot in the outlands had worked with Justin for nearly three decades, attending each other’s weddings and birth of children.

Good friends that had been together often over the years.

Honoria ‟Honey” Stathatos, a field nurse-in-training assigned to Justin for her orientation to flight rescue. Engineer and communications officer, a polyglot from earth Jose ‟Yak” Herrera, the only one of the crew that spoke as many languages as could be known. His talent for learning a langauge fluently in a week was legendary in the company, but he was dangerous with anything heavy or sharp.

Lifting off, they rose above the rapidly growing forest, trees already taller than the tallest living things on earth sprouted and grew in the high carbon atmosphere and iron rich soils that oxidized, releasing ever more nutrients for the planets new life to live on.

Evolutionary effects changed life forms rapidly. Bees became larger in the dense atmosphere and low gravity of the super-earth.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten, be advised, reporting parties on scene say the victim is impaled in the thorax.”

‟Well, that makes things a whole lot harder.” Justin observed quietly.

Raj just smiled, not wanting to make any inappropriate humor comments that might be picked up by the flight-deck recorders. Where they headed was under a storm-cloud. The small VTOL craft was over-engineered, over-engined and powerful with contra-rotating impellers of the ducted fans, just the machine needed for dependable operations in the overgrown forests that orbited as an emerald jewel around the gem of the orange-dwarf star.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten, this is Bald Mountain Fire Protection Engine-4, Captain Yehn. We have a landing zone for you cleared. Lat and long transmitting to you from my location.

‟Copy Captain Yehn. Our ETA is short, we are vectoring with you in sight.” Raj reported without emotion. “Approach looks good.”

Yak came on the intercom, his voice more baritone since he arrived from earth.

‟Justin, we have a super-cell developing to our south and east, just the direction we will want to go. Weather forecast shows it might go over the top of the incident.”

‟Thank you, Yak. I wonder if the winds there have something to do with that.”

‟Could be.” Raj agreed. ‟I’m showing gusts of greater than thirty-knots around the LZ.”

‟Copy that,” Justin said. ‟Yak, monitor any rotation that develops on doppler and keep us updated, we are going to hot-load, if we take time for tea, we may not get out for a while if there is a rotation.”

‟Justin, what are you worried about.” The female voice of Honey sounded in his ear.

‟Rotating storms in these mountains get a boost from the valleys in the glaciers, downslope winds compress,  pick up moisture and then sucked up. If it rotates, we could have the makings of a tornado. In this area, they are more-or-less stationary and last for long minutes and some as long as hours. We find bare areas in the forest, trees are not native here and have not adapted to these kinds of storms.”

‟What— how do you adapt to that kind of wind?” She asked. A native terran, she had arrived on the S-2 planet six months ago.

Justin and the others chuckled.

‟There is no defense other than to go to ground as far as we know. We can build to withstand the wind, but that takes time and money the company does not like spending, and going into a hole is faster.” Yak said over the sounds of the engines.

‟We are on final approach, lady and germs, strap in for a bumpy landing.” Raj said matter-of-factly. ‟We have crosswinds that are just at the redline, but we have a wide area to put down in.

‟That… That is a wide area?” Honey said, looking at the thumb-nail sized patch of rock they were approaching.

‟It looks bigger when you are on it.”

‟It better, it is nearly microscopic from here.”

‟Don’t look out the window, focus on the descent speed and altitude readouts. You’ll feel less panic then.” Raj sounded as if he had done this a hundred times.

And he had, more than a dozen times over.

‟Quiet please, emergency traffic only while I put the bird down.”

The group fell into silence, as the contra-rotating blades changed speed and pitch, the HummingBird class rescue airship, agile and fast when need called, set down on the landing wheels gentle enough to not spill anyones drink, if they had any.

‟Yak, keep an eye on the doppler and the boilers stoked, old friend, we will be back asap.” Raj said, second in command on the ground, he followed Justin out the back ramp with his backpack and calculators. ‟This is all kinds of farked up to operate in these conditions!” Raj yelled at Justin as they made their way to the linked-treaded construction tank. Brutally spartan in the interior, it was only good for short-range transports of people, in this case, it was a make-shift ambulance.

Technically against any written protocol in civilized areas, here in the wilderness, they did what worked and wrote their own rules without a leader that had any important title. They were Medical Emergency and Trauma Helilift.

‟Justin! Raj! There are some teams we are plain glad to see land.” Lieutenant Robin Wise smiled as the trio of Honey, Justin and Raj walked up with their hardware.

‟Where is our patient?” Justin asked as they entered the tank. ‟And nice to be appreciated.”

‟On his way. Justin, he is hurt bad, he fell on a fence post and it has impaled him, they are having to cut the post off for transport.” She said sadly. ‟Justin, it’s the new sheriff. Do every trick you know.”

‟Oh, damn.” The Paramedic in Justin kicked in, the new Sheriff had moved from the southern hemisphere and gotten control of the corruption that had crept in, the area had become a seed of crime that the leaders had decided that the current sheriff that had a drug problem and needed replacing. A decision that backfired, multiple arrests of community leaders, police officers, a minister later, the miniature crime wave came to an end.

The heavy link-treaded tank clanked along the path that served as a road to the sub-rural area, it stopped and lowered the ramp, allowing the flight-crew to enter.

Tomatsu Kia was well liked, an encyclopedic knowledge of the law made him respected by politicians and criminals, and his good looks made him popular with the women when he was on patrol, his manner would have made a doctor jealous.

Today, after falling off the roof of his own house, the pointed post of the gate entered just below his left ribcage and out just on the opposite of his sternum, piercing his left lung in two places and as Justin assessed the Sheriff, he found that Tom’s right lung also sounded diminished.

‟We have an eighty-kilo male, blood pressure has been steadily de-compensating.” The EMT told Justin. ‟We have him splinted as well as possible with vacuum braces, one-hundred percent oxygen by non-rebreather mask, his nail beds blanch and take a long time to come back to color. More than five seconds.”

Justin nodded, more than just lungs were an issue, then remembered the nurse, Honey.

‟Raj, put a cuff on him so we can get an auto-bp on him asap when we get to the bird. Honey, start an IV, I’ll spike the bags. Please reassess the lungs, give me a report”

Honey nodded and as Justin held out to packages of IV tubing he asked which one.

Laughing inwardly, he was making her give orders and she chose the tubing most used in surgery that this patient would need.

‟Let’s get him to our gurney, we do everything on the way after I get the first IV in, Justin, you do the second one at the same time.

Smiling and nodding. Justin knew she had it handled. Her orange-red hair was nearly white in the starlight of the orange-dwarf star, jokingly refered to as Sunkist in stellar traveler circles.

‟Oxygen saturation is down below ninety percent.” Raj said.

Tom was grunting with every breath.

‟Honey, we need to do something. What would you like me or Raj to do?”

‟We need a chest tube placed.”

‟Sorry, fresh out. How about something in protocol that won’t get us put in jail and our license shredded.” Justin pulled out a package and broke open the seal.

‟Thoractic decompression! Yes. Let’s do that.” Honey jolted from her stuck moment.

‟Copy that.” Justin said as he applied a silicon flap-valve to the end of the large catheter he punctured into the side of the Sheriff.

‟I have mine leaking blood.” Honey’s voice was tight and high.

‟Afirmative, Yak, toss us some towels, would you please? Honey, what do you think to begin transport to a definitive care center for Top-Gun Tom here? He is one of my fave souls in this part of the planet, hate to have him bleed out with this fence stuck in him.”

‟Yes, Raj, get us off the ground and to Challenge Medical Center. What is our ETA?”

‟Forty-minutes at conservative speed.”

‟We were enroute here for ten-minutes from time of call,” Justin gave a time report of their current call. ‟It was another five to seven minutes for someone to call and another two minutes to get the call to us. We have been on the ground six minutes, twenty seconds. Of our golden hour before irreversible shock sets in, we have now have used twenty-five plus a half-minute of the sixty we need to get him to a surgeon.” Justin nodded to Honey.

Taking his math into account, Honey looked at Raj.

‟What is our ETA on emergency speed?”

‟Twenty-five minutes, but we will be on vapors when we get there and the engines will be too hot to shut down straight away.”

‟Let’s do it.”

‟Yes, ma’am, code-3 it is.”

The jet engines turned up the contra-rotating blades, Raj adjusted the pitch and they lifted off the ground as if the airship was anxious to leave, the machine knowing that a life was in the balance and time was short.

‟Lady and gents, sit down, shut up, strap in and hold on.” As he buried the throttle to the edge of the top if its scale, after a minute of acceleration, Raj pulled the throttle sideways until it clicked and pushed it forward slowly, the sounds of the airship changed from one of ducted fan to one of jets as the fans disconnected and feathered into ring-shaped wings.

Justin directed Honey to call through the recorded communications system to the emergency department at the medical center. Several stuttering starts, Honey hit her stride on painting a picture of the patient’s condition and communicating with the surgical team at the trauma center.

The gentle increase in felt gravity, kept at a perceived vertical by the gimballed treatment area that the team and patient was in. A new feature to the Hummingbird class vessel, during acceleration or deceleration, the treatment area’s perceived vertical did not change. The emergency team would sit, strapped, in moving seats that prevented falling during treatment procedures.

****

A tone sounded after the automatic blood pressure cuff cycled, Tom’s vital signs were diminishing. His blood pressure had fallen below the normal values and he was hypotensive— low blood pressure— and his heart was beating faster at over one-hundred twenty beats per minute. His body was losing the fight to stay alive, even with the fluids that where initially used.

‟Honey, he is leaking faster than we can put in, progressive shock, if we do not increase his body’s ability to transport oxygen to the tissues, he will go into refractory shock.” Justin said calmly. ‟What is your plan of treatment now?”

‟He needs to have vasopressers.”

‟Hm.” Justin pulled at his ear. ‟Something more immediate that we don’t have to measure. Perhaps Syntheglobin? It has balanced electrolytes and a variety of other needed components that he is losing.”

‟And coagulants?”

‟We have that partially covered with the application of Quickclot bandages, we do not administer that intravenously, don’t even carry it. That is a hospital med only.”

‟Okay.” Honey nodded. ‟Hang two bags of Syntheglobin and infuse it wide open.”

‟Bags already spiked, wide open for infusion.”

‟Justin.” It was Yak on the intercom.

‟Yakkity-Yak, please talk back.” Justing gave a wink to Honey.

‟Information only, a wedge tornado touched down right after we left. There are casualties, they are declaring a multi-casualty incident.” Yak’s voice was grim, but professional.

‟Pilot copies.” Raj said. ‟We are unable to go any faster, as it is we have a required cool-down time on the engines of twenty minutes after landing, then we have to refuel.”

‟Ugh, copy that, Raj.” Justin said. ‟Yak, please keep us posted on the incident and weather.”

‟Affermative.”

‟ETA to the Trauma center, ten minutes.” Raj informed the crew. ‟Clear air between us and them.”

‟Copy, Raj.” Justin said. ‟Honey, what is his oxygen saturation reading?”

‟It’s showing only eighty percent!”

‟Correct. Using the artificial blood it has difficulty in picking up the new blood’s oxygen capacity. It is clear and the translumination of the red light on the probe will not pick it up, we have to change probes that are compatible. On the shelf marked ‟Synthe” pick out a probe and let’s place it on his ear, there is a special clamp for that.” Justin nodded.”That will give us a true reading now that he has had…” He looked at the bags. ‟Two and a half liters of Syntheglobin, and this flavor of Synthe is four-times the oxygen capacity, there is another kind of Synthe out now that has double that, so we can use less of the blood replacement for each victim and use the normal saline for the balance. Hospitals are liking it as they can then use different electrolytes without overloading the patient or having some other challenges.”

Honey nodded, getting a little glassy-eyed.

‟How, I mean, where. That is, how do you keep all that in your head?”

‟I wear earplugs to keep it from leaking out.” Justin shrugged with a wink.

‟He knows all that useless crap.” It was Raj’s voice. ‟We just need to plug holes and run. Only the doctors need to know it by memory, the rest of us have our data pads. But Justin, he’s just annoying.”

‟Well, keeps us where we are.”

‟ETA 5 minutes.” Raj’s voice changed instantly to all business.”

‟Assess his lungs again.” Honey told Justin. ‟Monitor shows his heart-rate dropping, below one-twenty.”

‟Good, three liters of Syntheglobin in. Sensors on the I.V. catheters show a blood ph of seven-point-four-two, we have slight alkalosis, but in good shape.” Justin said. ‟Tom, are you still with us?

‟Yeah, I keep going to sleep, though. I don’t feel so good.”

‟Well, according to my rule-book, you are not supposed to. You have a hunk of bronze stuck through you, best I can tell, you have missed your heart, spleen and other organs.”

‟But you said it punctured my lungs?”

‟Ah, you weren’t supposed to pay attention to that. Yeah, but you’re in good shape, we are putting down on the tarmac now. You’ll be in and out in no time.”

Justin looked at Honey. ‟Time?”

‟What do you mean?”

‟Of our golden hour, how much is left?”

‟We have, if our time is correct, eighteen minutes.”

‟Awesome, let’s get him out, swap things over to the portable and let us get this show on the road to the Emergency Department.”

Rolling the stretcher to the edge of the Hummingbird, it fit the waiting emergency room gurney tightly with clips that fit into the frame of the wheeled table and they walked quickly through the doors where the surgical team waited them.

Tom lived long enough to make the golden hour and would live to come home.

Reports made, the crew of the hummingbird headed for home, lifting above the clouds of the storm, Yak said it was overcast with showers, but no major storms in the area when the computers on board illuminated with information and a computer generated voice chimed in on the pleasant converstions…

‟Incident assigned.”

The Red Witch’s Dragon (A short story about 3,000 words)

Standard

\

The Red Witch’s Dragon

Smoke of the burning ships drifted across the hills.

They had come.

The warriors from the north and east to the verdant land. Of the people, even the Green Wizard had summed up his advice in one word.

Flee.

Even the Green Wizard had told the younger, more volatile Red Wizard of the west to leave the area. They could return to the land after the raiders had left.

The Red Witch and Wizard taught the artisans the ways to perform their own brand of magic on ingots of gold, silver, copper and other metals. As they traded for and wide for the raw materials that they brought back to the village, both the husband and wife of the mountain felt they owed the village the best protection they could do.

“The best protection, my son, is to lead them to safety.”

Safety from the Dubh-Gall. Ferocious warriors that the world had not before seen. They came out of the north in high prow-ships, rowing like madmen. Swift, unstoppable and terrifying. In another age and language they went by another name.

Viking.

****

“Move along! Quickly! The sooner we are through the hills…”

A scream echoed down the line of people. In the distance, the glint of steel shown through the forest.

They were coming.

“RUN! Drop everything that you are not wearing, carry the children and run!”

Oengus, the Red Wizard turned to his wife and they both knew what they had to do.

“Come with me.” The Red Wizard said to the most well armed of the men that did duty as the rear guard.

“Flank guard, come with me!” Assa the Red Witch said loudly. ignoring the irritated look from the Green Wizard as he herded the people through the gap.

Taking a group of adults to the rear, the plan quickly evolved to keep the Dubh-Gall from crossing the stream. They lined up in two rows, forming a giant V to keep the raiders from crossing the water ford and away from the escaping people.

The plan was to force the raiders to think they had broken through, only to cross at the deepest part of the stream where the swift waters flowed into a cataract.

****

Confident in their plan they deployed their under-armed and untrained warriors, painted the ruddy color of blood, they took finely forged weapons meant for trade and selling to princes and kings. This time, the people used the fine weapons to defend children, and those that could not defend themselves.

These were not soldiers, the was the leader, but the Wizard himself was no soldier.

Still, he had read the books of Alexander and Hannibal.

****

The rending of wood and metal upon flesh. The battle of the artisans against those of the raiders was decidedly one-sided.

Battle hardened from their many raids where the people ran like sheep. They were not ready for the she-wolf in red hair in the form of Assa, The Red Witch.

****

Their attack faltered as they surged forward against the raiders, the bright red hair and furious scream of a wild-eyed warrior woman bent on protecting those that have asked for it— fell.

Of all the things to happen to a person with arrows flying both directions, spears thrown and sharp instruments swung like scythes in the field.

Stepping sideways to dodge a swinging ax, she moved in front of a charging horse that killed the murderous berserker with its massive hooves and knocked her down in the process, stepping on her foot as it charged forward.

****

Two-hundred fifty paces from the front of the lines, she was not in the lead and her line began to falter.

Fighting and falling back, the line of home protectors, elders and the crazy aunt that everyone has, stood between the fleeing line of family and the bloodthirsty men from the sea.

In the clearing of bodies, Assa’s head bobbed up and down as she tried to make a splint out of a dropped battle club. Too far away, Oengus the Red saw his wife laying on the ground in harm’s way.

The line had moved away from her as his line was putting pressure on the raiders with archers and running battles.

But Assa was alone. Without a leader, her line began to fall back.

****

One-hundred fifty paces between her and the fighting line of death.

Arrows fell around her, the Wed Ritch without a weapon or tool, dragged herself to a broad shield dropped in the heat of battle and pulled it over her as three arrows hit nearby. Using it thick leather, wood and metal as an umbrella to protect her from the steel rain.

And the viking archers were finding her range.

Pulling the shield over her, broad as two men, an arrow struck the shield at a dangerous angle. This archer was spot on target and she was the bullseye.

Looking about, Oengus sought a volunteer to become a protector of his wife. Try as he might as they pushed towards where Assa was, the raiders were too strong and pushed back.

One-hundred twenty-five paces, the line grew closer to her. The defenders were retreating inexorably back, no one stopped to help her, they were all too busy fighting. Those that fell were on their own.

Such are the costs of war.

Oengus continued to search, but no one could break away, his own line unable to make headway.

****

Her line of defense was enough to keep safe the lives of the fleeing villagers that had moved out ahead of the landing of the high-prowed ships. Little did they realize that the well planned invasion had come in three parts, each raiding party had landed ten miles apart, north to south to cut off the refugees escape route.

One-hundred paces.

The line had to reform as the fighters fell back from a wedge attack the raiders had formed.

The vikings were trying to punch through the lines and nearly did so, but Nial had other plans, half his family had yet to cross the water ford and de was not about to let the line closest to them break and endanger the people he is trying to protect.

Failure was not an option for any of them.

****

Seventy-five paces away from Assa.

Looking about at the melee of furious fighting, Oengus saw his love and reason for living now only steps from capture, hiding under broad shield, even from here, Oengus could see that her left foot was not in the anatomic normal position. It was badly broken by the warhorse stepping on her, the pain would be excruciating. It was no small wonder that she had not cast some spell of hiding or concealment, the agony of her broken foot kept her from focusing.

****

Forty paces.

No one was able to take the time, everyone was defending to their utmost

Assa could see the individual hairs in the beard of the pig-tailed, pig nosed man who carried a sword nearly as long as he stood tall.

Two thin lines of defenders, one defender deep stood between her and death, like mighty trees standing against the storm. Screaming berserkers, by the twos and half-dozens, charged time and again against the smiths, tinkerers, carpenters and farmers, crashing like waves against stone. Steel upon steel and bronze upon leather, the screams of the dying and the momentary victorious sounded along the battle line, it all blended in an awful din.

Oengus knew that they could not keep up the defense, the archers left alive were running low on arrows. Youthful runners sprinted, some never returned, a small few returned bringing arrows in hand and in body before collapsing in death, giving the arrows that had pierced them as they had run. Each man bled to hold his line next to his brother or cousin. None of the villagers would give a willing inch to the biting axes and hissing arrows.

Their own archers gave the raiders something to respect. Time and again, even as their own had fallen to arrows that came in, they outdistanced the Viking archers with their long bows.

Thirty paces. The wounded men stood against the charging invaders of the land, like time and waves on rock, it was wearing them down.

Twenty-five paces.

The line retreated, but at a hideous cost to the men of the east, dozens fell with arrows jutting out of their eyes and stuck in their throats.

Twenty paces.

Oengus was in a panic, he needed a subject, someone who would willingly endure a temporary transformation and be the hero of the day.

No one!

Anyone?

None could turn to even engage the question. Everyone was committed to the battle.

****

Fifteen paces.

He was the wizard of harvest, he could bring a flood and storm. But here in the vale, they were all in the floodplain. He had one spell, ten-thousand spells for the same effect, ten-thousand ways to cast each one and he had to undo what he was about to do. Once done, anyone else would be hard pressed to cast a counterspell on changes he wrought with his words.

****

Ten paces.

Out of time. Oengus knew who would do the heroic deed. But the return would be so much longer than the first transformation.

Sliding his sword into the scabbard and dropping it against a tree. He readied himself for the power to flow and transform.

Oengus, Wizard of the Red Dragon of the Westland was ready.

He imaged in his mind his subject and began chanting the five-keys of spells in a specific pattern.

He awoke the land and called upon its power.

****

Assa the Red Witch of the Setting Sun, hid under the broad viking shield, dropped by a raider when her defenders surged forward out of the narrows where the water flowed, her ankle hurt so bad, she screamed when she moved it. Remaining still was not an option.

“Protect the Red!” The artisians yelled. A gravelly voice of the singularly talented smith in seven villages, he called himself “The Smite”, bellowed that no one would be allowed to take the Red Witch.

“Gather her! Pick her up and take her away!” As his great hammer inverted yet another Norse shield into the unfortunate wielder.

But no one came.

She was alone. In a sea of friends and family, of those she had healed, the only help could be had were those that were fighting to protect her untenable place under the broad disk of bronze and iron.

Using a sprig of a spice she dug from the ground, Assa chewed on it for the narcotic, albeit minimal, effect it had.

She needed greater magic than she had with her, her bag, torn from her body by Ulain and his bronze-armored steed when she was ran over by the thundering hooves that stepped on her ankle.

“HERE! Assa!” It was Ulain’s son with the armored horse holding out his hand whilst holding onto the reigns of the angry warhorse with the other.

They were in a semi-circle of a path, a lane really, two rows of fighters, archers on one side shooting between the ranks of the defenders on the other, into the bodies and heads of the raiders that surged to drive the villagers into the water.

It was the plan all along, to draw the heavily armored invaders into a white water grave in the rapids, but with the falling of their leader, she now needed more protection than any of them.

A loud sound, like that of a gong, sounded loud and the great black horse fell, Ulain was gone, Assa did not know if Ulain died somewhere or unhorsed and was fighting on foot. His son now lay crushed under the horse that had an embossed mark like a hammer on the side of the horse-helmet, struggled.

Assa could feel the horse remained alive, but instead of shifting emotions and feelings of the animal, it was a soft blur, the horse was unconscious.

****

Then Assa spied an object that made her heart leap for hope— Her medicine bag, lost in the early part of the fighting. In it she could heal a broken ankle in moments, give strength to the fighters defending their homes and heal herself.

Now she needed Oengus and he was a thousand paces away and the killers of women and children were…

****

Ten paces.

The villagers would shove and battle, gaining ten steps and be driven back eleven.

If viewed from above, the line moved as a snake, writhing, biting, killing— pain.

Her bag, was fifteen paces behind her, she struggled towards it, putting distance between herself and the inexorable retreat of the line to the river.

An ax banged against the shield and bounced away.

The battle was twelve paces distant. She was getting hit with debris that flew about during battles.

A blast of wind blew her bag towards her hand, almost into her grip, but paused.

Not waiting, she lunged and grabbed the soft leather and pulled it under her makeshift roof.

Focusing as she pulled out a stone, spit on it — which was a challenge as her mouth was dry — she only needed a little moisture to have the powder stick to the stone.

And … A sound that grew louder…

The battle seemed different.

Sounds of the rage of war had changed, becoming screams of fear.

Lifting up the shield that was her savior several times in the last few minutes, she saw what looked like ruby-red tree trunks just to the battle side.

It was…

A dragon!

****

The roar of the furies combined with the sound of a thousand storms were no match for ruby-red dragons voice.

The roar echoed off the distant mountains and rolled back along the battle line.

Although in legend and by fire they bragged about being brave, but on this day, the raiders had a collective loss of bladder control at once… Then ran.

Snarling with fury the great dragon launched itself against the fleeing hoard and continued to roar and snarl as they dropped weapons to run faster. The raiders of the lands did not feel they had to outrun the dragon, just the man next to him.

Sure victory had become a race of retreat to the boats.

In legends down time, the people told and re-told the story that the roars of the dragon echoed in the hills around the vale for three days after the battle.

Those raiders fallen  behind were left by their brothers, the Dubh-Gall that fought and drove the farthest inland were now the most far behind when the running began,  finding themselves abandoned by the hoard of now frightened men who sailed away on the ships they arrived in. The abandoned warriors settled peacefully, never wishing to draw the ire of the red dragon of the west ever again.

In the vale, where the villagers returned, blood that had seeped into the ground from the defenders that would give their lives for the loved one named Assa that taught them all how to live, love and laugh.

In the days that followed, leaders looked for Oengus. After weeks of searching, finally identified him by his medallion of a Red Dragon hanging around his neck. No help could be rendered in by any artesian or even the great Green Wizard of the east.

Oengus had changed himself into the dragon, but unable to speak any human tongue in his condition, no one knew the spell he performed.

Finn of the White Water, where he lived on the river, was able to perform the mathematics to figure out the time needed to change Oengus back to his normal self.

One-hundred million ways to cast the spell, each one taking a half-minute to recite in a rush without mistakes.

Assa would age, pass, then be dead and gone if she had to go to the end and try every spell to get her husband back.

Such was the price of a hero.

He won the respect of every day the villagers lived in peace, but had no part in the celebration, he could never know the hugs of the children that he saved.

For dragons live forever, men and women do not.

Even witches and wizards.

In the decades that followed, if one stopped and listened in the far end of the vale, one could hear the red witch yelling at her husband, calling him names for using a spell that no one could reproduce.

****

Early one fine spring day, about two years after the battle, Granuaile walked to the mountain of the dragon and announced herself.

The Red Witch, always enjoying company, yelled at the husband.

Once they called her Assa, the Red. The Gentle Red Witch.

Now, she called herself Nessa, meaning “Ungentle”, she became Nessa the Red, the Warrior Witch of the Westland.

“Dragon! Show yourself! It is the girl from the village.”

Pointing to the vale, Granuaile told them of the trees that the Green Wizard had planted.

“Come see. A monument to the day you saved us all.” With that she ran off down the path, waving at the Red Witch.

In the lane, near the ford, trees now lined the path that followed where the dragon had stood and walked until the fighters and defenders that held their ground in defense of the Red Witch of the Mountain, was safe.

In the times that followed, the stream silted up and moved, the ford became a meadow, but the trees remained. When they died or fell, there were people of the land to replant the trees, eventually becoming giants, growing over the path with a protective canopy along the section where once stood a dragon that was a man who gave his life as a human to protect the jewel of his heart.

In time the vikings would return, forgetting the Red Dragon that lived in the Westland.

They would not forget for long.

Tunnel of Darkness Section 3. Challenged

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Section 3. Challenged

 

Data incoming, the Seraph was on a defensive footing, reporting that the perimeter was under assault and the hospital ship was using all non-lethal means to keep the killing and marauders  at bay. Each group claiming a holy right to kill anyone they deem unworthy of life.

Those wounded that approached with hands up and asking for help, they treated without hesitation, but the armed militias required the Seraph to raise shields.

Those wounded that did not move inside the perimeter before the hospital ship powered up, became stranded. The mob murdered dozens full view of those that swore to treat life as precious. To help and aid, to use wisdom for the healing of those that needed and asked, however they could only watch.

One technician thought to send a message to the rescue teams. The was closed. 

Safsy read the data as it came over the terminal and shook his head.

“James, we have a problem. Exit is cut off.”

“Well, this makes it a lot more difficult. Secondary zone, then. Tell them we’re heading that way now with an ETA of fifteen.” The pilot read his navigation display.  “We will need to take the long way on the water, might be choppy because of a breeze, but it will be safer.”

“Plotting now.” The Colonel looked over the live sat-nav display.  “James, we will head into a large group boats that are moving between us and the secondary, how if we do the tertiary?”

“Negative, that is an hour away as the crow flies and I cannot promise you a straight line.”

“Defense systems up then.” Safsy tapped the smooth panel, powering up the protective hardware.

“Do you have training on the defense systems?” James asked.  He was well versed in the protective hardware of the hover-hybrid, but his task now was to get them to the hospital ship. 

“Minimal, I know how to use the electric hull defense.”

“Excellent! That one’s difficult. We have also noxious gas. Just remember, there is a limited amount of that. The only resource we have in abundance is electricity.”

“Noxious…?”

“Specifically, it is a skunk oil. And not the nice kind, either. This is a mercaptan that they concentrated in the worst possible way and a permanent pink dye.” James laughed. “It can be detected by a human nose in one-part per quadrillion. If you get doused in this stuff, you will be easy to sniff out, and you will be a color that does not exist in nature and lonely.”

“Wow, pungent and pink.” The Colonel gave a grim laugh. “Should be easy to find, they would be alone.” 

“Yes, press the button on that, yell and I will be moving this crate. I want clear out of the area before the canisters discharge, that crap is hell to scrub off the paint and no one wants it in the hangar.”

“Then we are leaving. We have an hour of travel.” Safsy ordered.

“Yes, sir. And Colonel? There is a marsh nearby that leads out over the water, we can move over that and be clear of any crowds, I just cannot navigate this glorified shanty-town.”

“I’m ahead of you, working on an exit route now.” The Colonel spoke into the man-to-man mike. He spoke in relaxed tones with the pilot. “Direction and speed on your display now.” 

“I’m heading away from the groups, to some lower buildings. These skyscrapers around here are an advantage for anyone wanting to take a shot at us.” James said, dust of impacting projectiles were visible across the path they just covered.  But the shots were wide and hit ground in the distance.  They were just shooting wild in their  direction.

“Engage, put distance between us and the rioters.” Safsy had seen the puffs of dirt nearly a thousand paces behind them and did not wish to waste time.

The hovercraft was steady as it moved over the marsh. Surgery continued in the operating theater as the craft navigated the open area.

Saving the wounded pilot continued as the teams repaired the insult to the pilot’s body. The lead surgeon ordered that the moving emergency room be shown more care or cause the surgeon to become unhappy when James and the Colonel headed out over the water where the craft began to sway unacceptably.

“O.R. to the Colonel. We are working back here, please keep the rocking down to a gentle quake.” It was “Stormy” Knight, six-feet tall of surgeon that was frightening when she became angry. She had no tolerated no interference when it came to caring for her patients.

Sensors beeped and displayed information.

“Seraph is passing overhead. They’ll land on the other side and extract us there.”

“Outstanding.” James sounded pleased as they crossed from the open water back to the marsh area, the rocking motion of the hovercraft subsided. “Thank you for that info.”

In full hovercraft mode over mud and reeds , the surgical team in the operating room remained undisturbed as they repaired the shrapnel filled wounds of the pilot.

Approaching the Seraph, it was a bittersweet end to the mission. The Colonel achieved a successful mission resolution, inwardly pleased as they arrived at the hospital ship. Deploying the tank treads, James rolled them up the ramp into the hangar and powered down the engines once they were safely inside.

The melancholy set in as this would probably be the last time he would head out.

The wounding of the pilot created questions that they required to answer for. Safsy would be held responsible for injuries of the pilot, perhaps relieved of duty.  It was the way of the corporation. 

Downloading the logs into the larger ship’s memory, Safsy shut down the on board computers and stood up, stretching. He needed some fresh air, it would probably be the last time to do so while wearing a uniform.

Walking off the ramp of the Seraph, Colonel Safsy stood on the soil of Sapphire with his hands in his pockets and inhaled the breeze that blew gently into his face.

It was a nice planet, perhaps they could become a tourist destination. Safsy shrugged inwardly.

“COLONEL! Watch out!”  Shouted  a hanger technician.

Safsy looked around and saw a sentry drone with a projectile weapon locked on to him, this was not alarming, corporate drones operated with programing to follow commands of anyone wearing the ID badge with the chip in it.

“Drone! Disarm, power down.” Safsy ordered while approaching. For a moment, it seemed that the machine was turning away when it fired with a strange buzzing sound, blowing a hole in the Colonel’s chest.

The buzzing sound echoed in his dying brain.

Darkness was all around him, the insistent buzzing was annoying, the last sound he would hear in this life.

Yawning, the webs of the dream faded and the Colonel wondered why the buzzing reminded him of a gun.

“Incident assigned.” They received a dispatch to the planet Sapphire for victims of riots. The most violent planet in the outer systems.

Colonel Safsy Gliese sighed, he wished someone would shoot him. 

Tunnel of Darkness

Standard

Darkness.

It invaded him, all around. Some would say he was a cold soul, hardened from so many times responding to emergencies, seeing things that would make a Marine cry,  but he was numb beyond his ability to describe the feeling of sadness. It had been this way for as  long as he worked the out lying societies of the colonies. 

Outwardly he feared nothing, riding in the mobile emergency room towards, arguably, the capital of violence in the industrialized planet systems. This planet orbited a dwarf red star only a few dozen light-years from the home planet from where the first humans moved out into space.

He was Colonel Safsy Gliese. His father named him after the great explorer Safsy Riggs from earth that used the, then new, Type-D Alcubierre drive. His father- widowed by the war of religion when the religion of feared death-dealing terrorists triggered a supervolcano in the middle of a continent. After leaving Earth, Dad used a common last name when they left the planet for another brown proto-star for a mining colony, where his father struggled to make an import business succeed. 

Instead, it succeeded into sending the best father that could have walked into an early grave, crushed by a product transporter with a lift that was long overdue for servicing, the old man pushed it past the limits and paid with his life.  He left an eighteen-year-old son who had neither the knowledge or the desire to try and run an import business.  Safsy desired to study medicine, even keeping grades up for scholarships.  

But alas, scholarships were not enough.  His grades did not earn him a full ride, without his father, he could only go part way before the money ran out.  Leaving him frustrated and depressed.  All he wanted to do was make his father proud.

And he failed on all counts, even losing the business that was his dad’s dream for success for the family of father and son.  

Since then, Safsy had moved to the copper world of the orange-dwarf star called the planet Sapphire, in the constellation Sappho as seen from the planet in the stellar nursery fifty-light years distant.

A planet composed of high concentrations of copper, so much so that some mountain ranges had outcroppings of the metallic element. Beryllium rich outer planets in the system made for a natural industry and trade hub for the farmers of the other planets in the region.

Then the discovery of energy to mass conversion on the Gliese systems all but collapsed the economy of the Sapphire.

Right in the back yard of the Colonel’s work as Search and Rescue.

He looked out the window of the ship Seraph, captained by his friend and companion through frequent adventures over the years. Wings on the bow of the ship were against the protocols of the company, but the regional directors looked the other way as it was a gift of peace between two warring parties.

The pure gold welded to the hull of the ship made the wings sparkle without diminishing over time was no easy feat, as the hull of the Seraph was of metastable metallic hydrogen. Tough and superconducting, the simple element as a gas in space, came from the ship yards ready for any kind of action. Ship rescues near stars, high energy waves just slid over the hull, protecting everything within its walls.

Today, they were putting down on Sapphire, riots had broken out over the austerity programs, miners were out of work as the new technology had turned to converting hydrogen — the most common element in the known universe — into copper.

The once prestigious university of New Antarctica at the pole of the planet now sat in decay. Only the sciences seemed to stick it out for the duration, trying to create some alloy that would be a Sapphire Only creation.

Traversing the side of the green soiled hill, the team used a high-speed land-crawler to travel into the downtown area of Solstice, a large metropolitan area on the polar sea. A body of water ten-percent larger than the Terran Pacific Ocean and growing with the planetary tectonics.

“Medic-One, your victims are at school street and Twelfth Boulevard. Reporting two people stabbed. We have other units en route, law enforcement is also dispatched but have an ETA of half-hour. You will be first on scene, unknown location of suspects involved. Stage before arriving on scene at least five-hundred meters.”

“Copy, thank you for the information.” The Colonel specialized in off-ship rescues. The land crawler was capable of handling up to a dozen patients and have a surgical suite in the core with a team operating on victims.

“Medic-One, fire departments on scene report a riot on scene, stage at the one kilometer mark until law enforcement arrive.”

“Are they able to handle a riot?” Kimberly Suthlinder asked. “Maybe they should send out the peace force to stop this?”

Kimberly was a great surgeon, but this was her first tour and was fresh out of the University of the Sciences on Threshold, so named as it the planet that bordered deep space settlements.

“No, likely it is those peacekeepers that are fighting. They haven’t been paid for months.” The frowning Colonel said.

“Oh, no.”

“Oh yes. It’s all about food now. These people would hunt the indigenous life, except the only life native here,  is lichen. The economy fell to the technology that replaced their primary export. The two planets have teamed up, one processes beryllium,” He pointed to a spot in the sky.  “Sapphire process produces an uncommonly pure copper with a minimum of energy input. There’s abundant hydrogen, but they don’t have the process technology to do anything with it. Not difficult to obtain, this system is in the middle of a dark-matter cloud that has pockets loaded with nearly pure hydrogen that has agglomerated into non-reactive particles, it is easy to collect. The government here just has no way to process it.”

“Oh, crap on a cracker. This will leave the area as a ghost town.”

“It will, for all intents and definitions, be a ghost town. We are witnessing the death of a society if they cannot beg, borrow or steal tech to improve their position.”

“What about the University here?”

“They are working around the clock to come up with something. But so far, the Gleise consortiums are keeping tight wraps on technology, they can produce copper that is five-nines pure with less energy that they use here— and they produced copper here cheaply, but not cheap enough.”

“Arrival.” The pilot’s voice came over the speakers in their chairs.”

“Arrival?” The Colonel blinked, tapping the touch-screen opening the intercom graphic on the control panel. “Colonel to bridge, we were to post away from the event.”

“Negative, my display shows green for entry.”

Taptaptap echoed in the hull of the crawler, punctuating the pilots comments — someone had taken shots at the moving emergency department.

“Pilot, move us out of here.”

Silence for a heartbeat.

“I’m hit! Help me, ohmygod!” The scream could be heard from the pilot’s position without the intercom.

Tapping on his smooth panel control module, the Colonel alerted the surgical and rescue teams.

“Trauma teams to the bridge, medical emergency, pilot has been hit. Trauma teams to the bridge.”

The Colonel wished they had shot him, six surgeons on board, with two gas-passers and trauma medics that can operate in the field to bring the victims in. But they only had two pilots, now one.

If the second pilot was hit, Safsy had only a passing knowledge of this transporter, he could drive them back to the Seraphim, but not as smoothly as with a trained pilot of this tank-treaded/hovercraft hybrid craft.

He did not want any harm to come to his team and would challenge anyone to shoot him if it drew the danger away from anyone or anything else.

Nodding to himself, the Colonel was looking for a chance to commit suicide by proxy. He did not always recognize it, but he knew he was coming to the end of his career.

Anyone that was looking to die in the line of duty did not belong on duty. He knew it was only time before he would stumble and begin to have serious, self-destructive personal and professional effects.

He did not know if it would be ethanol that might force him to resign or perhaps striking someone who would then need treatment  in the Seraph.

 Violence had no place in the medical ship, but the Colonel could feel it building by increments every day.