Harvey Mills stood in crisp black clothes at the outdoor bar, gleaming bottles before and behind. Beyond this parapet of glass, a line of smiling, laughing guests in suits and dresses stood, waiting their turn. They stood beneath a canopy of leaves and outdoor lights, harsh and bright. Just beyond the curve of the line, Mills could see a corner of a freestanding veranda.
Above the sibilance of scattered conversation, a tone rang out, glass sounding hollowly.
The hum of conversation dimmed and died down. The couple before Mills turned smoothly, as though standing on wheeled platforms. Silence fell and still the tone came again, pause, again, pause. Again. Mills' ears began to ring, a lower pitch than the glass, until that sound drowned out everything.
Suddenly it ceased. The line parted just slightly, and Mills saw a familiar face staring out, severe and serene, under the lights of the veranda.
“The festivities are about to begin,” she intoned to the silent crowd, which emitted a polite applause and abruptly, as one, stopped.
A squeak came from behind Mills; from the building where some of the other catering staff was working. It repeated and repeated, gathering tempo. A wheelchair came into view, rolling on the brick path between ferns, pushed by a caterer Mills couldn’t make out. Speak-squeak, squeak-squeak.
The wheelchair had a figure upon it, bound, hooded, half-familiar. Squeak-squeak. Pulling arms and legs against restraints, fingers clawing at the armrests. Sqeak-sqeak. All this went right past Mills and to the woman in white, who he could now see as the crowd parted.
No, he saw because Mills had left the bar and pushed into people, through them, numbly, as they muttered angrily at his rudeness. The woman smiled triumphantly and yanked the hood from the bound man.
Steve. Mills’ heart raced. Steve, whose firm hands and lean frame had been wrapped around him just before, before... There was blood all over his face. Wounds all over his face, bored in. Mills began to run towards him.
Insight: 1, no change
Mills pushed through the crowd and left a wake of startled yells and inhuman growls. The woman, who looked just like someone, someone Mills knew, but not from this time in his life, not from catering. Dr Bright. From where he knew Steve. From working in Argos II. From under the ocean. She locked eyes with him and smiled. Mills moved towards Steve as she lapped blood from her hand.
“You… came for me,” Steve said weakly.
There was a tunnel of red gore bored into Steve’s chest. It was too deep to see all the way down, and too full of dark blood, which drooled out slowly. Broken chunks of rib and sternum glinted sharp white around the edges. Mills had a towel in his hand and pushed it to the wound, trying to apply pressure, and his hands slipped inside the wet warm wound. Steve gasped.
“Dreaming me,” he muttered.
Insight: 6, ++ to 2
Mills woke up. The coffin sleeper he and Steve shared was cold. The alarm dully stated 6:22 in red, and the sleeping bag they used as a blanket was soaked with sweat and churned about. Steve was gone. Had some 0500 shit he had to be at, Mills remembered. He crawled to the end of the sleeper and cranked open the hatch.
He could smell himself: sour, like piss after too much coffee. He grabbed a towel off the hatch’s built-in rack and padded off to the showers, trying to shake the unreal fear from the dream, trying to remind himself that Steve was ok.
Sally Watkins found him in the commissary, drinking coffee, eating voraciously.
“Micah wants to see you,” she said, looking nervous.
“What, is it that bad, Sally? I've never seen you look spooked.”
Watkins shrugged, not making eye contact. “I got to run and check some atmo scrubbers; just head there real soon, you hear? I don’t want to get it in the neck from her.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make you look good.”
Watkins snorted, shook her head. “You’re going to go, yeah?”
Mills held out his hands. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
Micah’s office was as far from general quarters as it could be and still be in Hab 4. It was right next to the access way leading to the military spire, its drone control rooms and moon pools and machine rooms. Her office smelled faintly of the oil and grease running through the veins of the spire, and it was as clean as some of the labs in the science center, from what Mills had heard.
Micah gestured to a chair, so Mills sat, leaned back. “How’s things, boss?”
“OK… How are you, Harvey? How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine, you know. About to head to drone control.”
Micah nodded slowly, looking slightly perturbed. “Yes. We need you to get back to work. It’s been three days since you.. shut yourself in. I understand - I really do.” She held up a hand. “I know we have rules about fraternization on the books, but I’m not interested in enforcing anything like that. I just need you back in the saddle.”
Three days? I went to work yesterday! Yesterday! I… I know I did. And fraternization? What on Earth does Steve have to do with this? He had some piloting to do with some researchers...
The steel decking seemed to sway under Mills feet. The chair he was in seemed to rock. He kept his eyes on Micah, and tried not to react to feeling lost at sea in a swell. His mind raced to come up with some way to ask without tipping her off, getting a trip to the company shrink.
“So is there any, ah, news?” Mills asked slowly.
Micah shook her head. “The Cyclops is still missing, all hands as well. I’m sorry.”
Steve’s boat. Steve was gone.
Insight: 6 ++ to 3
Roll to seem normal!
“Thanks for, for giving me time to recover.”
(Micah didn’t seem to suspect that Mills couldn’t remember the last three days, at all. Mills’ heart raced, he was sweating. He felt numb all over.)
“If that’s all, I’ll let you return to your work. You’re cleared through to the spire.” Micah was already looking through a stack of papers, work requisitions from the military or the scientists.
It felt like groveling. The words tasted like ash in Mills' mouth. Thanking her. For 3 days in a fugue, while Steve was probably dead or dying. And now back to work like everything was fine. Mills numbly stood and tried to cry quietly as he left the room. If Micah noticed she didn't say anything.
clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream