Across The Universe

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Chapter 2 (v.1) - 2

Submitted: May 19, 2018

Reads: 109

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Submitted: May 19, 2018



After the tour of the station, Max went to the far end of the wheel, where the offices were.


Even though the place was circular, Charlie insisted that it was surprisingly easy to get turned around and lost.  To help stop the workers from literally running round in circles, tiny coloured lines marked the ceiling.  Charlie also pointed out that there were two medical stations that stood at the halfway point between the professional and living quarters.  Those were marked with the universal red crosses.


Using the crosses and the lines, following the green one, Max found the office for life science, which was more like a storage room.  The space that wasn't taken up by a small desk was dominated by shelves upon shelves of drawers, which seemed to be organized in something similar to the Dewey Decimal System.


Goethe and Daisy were talking, but they both looked up at him when he waved from the doorway.  Daisy gestured for him to come in, but continued to speak to Goethe in German.


Politely ignoring their conversation, even though he didn't understand a single word of it, Max looked at the cases on the wall, protected by clear polysilien, an unbreakable and lightweight material.  The majority of the station was made of it. 


In minute typeface under each case, it stated what was in them, a number beside listing which ones were most important to least, so if there was a need for emergency evacuation, the vital cases could be collected before the station was abandoned.


Moving from the plants to the embryos, Max heard something that sounded final and half turned to see Goethe drop his hand on Daisy's shoulder as he moved to leave the room.  Daisy turned to Max.  "So, how's the station?"  She asked, absently rubbing her hands as if she was getting dust off them.


Shrugging, Max wasn't sure what to say.  It was disorientating, like his normal life and yet not.  "I'm getting used to the gravity," he offered, and she laughed.


"It took me months to quit dropping things, expecting them to just sort of hover in the general area I left them," she said, picking up a handheld monitor as she leaned against the desk that was part of the wall.  "Hopefully, you're smarter than me."


Coming closer, Max saw she was looking at his file, and he was surprised that she had remembered who he was.  Likewise, he was a bit disappointed that she didn't presume this was a social call.  He was fine with her being professional, but just jumping right to it was something else.


"I imagine it would be hard to be smarter than you," he said, then realized that it sounded like he was being too complimentary.  He held up his hand.  "I mean, I don't exactly have a doctorate, and you have, what, two?"


"Education has nothing to do with intelligence," she said, her tone a little brisk as she sat her monitor down and crossed her arms.  "I've met enough ivy-league idiots to know that."  She took a deep breath and raised her eyebrows at him as she offered a tight smile.  "I'm guessing you have some questions... everyone has so far, and I'm sure that it should have been more expected."


He hesitated, wondering what would be too rude to mention, and she held up a hand, flexing her tri-jointed thumb.  "Whatever you want to ask, I would consider it to be out of your own personal interest," she assured him.  "It's almost like going through puberty again, only this time, you can't possibly have an idea of what to expect.  But, remember, I was the prototype and I wasn't there for the trials.  Most things should be similar, but there will be a few things different that I won't have answers for."


He pointed at the modified digit.  "Is that going to happen?"  He asked, and she wiggled it as if she was trying to recall what was wrong with it.


"It might," she conceded.  "This happened shortly after I got to the station."  She held it up and moved all her digits in a complicated manner.  "I had to learn how to use my hands again, but it was remarkably less painful than I would have thought it would have been."


"What do I have to look forward to?"  Max asked, sitting in the magnetic chair across from her.


Sighing Daisy drummed on her thigh, making a mental list.  "You know, I should have thought about all this and made a compilation," she told him.  "I knew you guys would want to know this stuff, but I'm not great at thinking ahead."  She apologized for making him wait and she stretched out her legs in front of her.  "Did you grow?"  She asked suddenly, and Max paused for a moment.


"I'm not sure," he answered.  "I haven't had my height taken in forever."


Daisy pursed her lips and rolled her eyes.  "That's typical of Goethe to forget something like that."


"Well, I wouldn't have thought that it was important," Max said almost defensively for his absent friend.


She shrugged.  "You probably didn't think you were going to grow gills either," she pointed out, grinning at his stunned look.  "You probably won't, you would have by now if you were, I'm sure."  She picked up a spoon-shaped implement from the desk and showed it to him.  "One of the stress tests I had, because a room with the basic atmosphere of Mage was out of our league, was to dive to the bottom of a salt water pool," she explained as she pulled up her shirt, exposing her side.  "It was to see if it would improve lung capacity and all that stuff... what it did was it essentially made me grow four extra lungs."




Nodding, Daisy took a deep breath and he could see she was holding it.  There was a wet clicking sound, and he saw her push the spoon into her side, gingerly pushing the handle up so that the bowl poked back out of her flesh.  She moved her hand away and the spoon just stayed in place.  She exhaled.  "Yeah, see, I developed what I'll call aquatic lungs, and later on I was put in the... what were they calling it?  The 'de-oxygenator'?"


"Yeah," Max nodded, staring at the strip of skin holding the spoon in place.  It seemed almost perverse to be looking at it, but there was something ghastly and intriguing about it.  Leaning forward, he noticed he could see lines that looked almost like scars above and below the strip of skin.  She had five gills on that side, and he was willing to bet she had the same amount on the other.


Coughing when he found he was staring too long, Max sat back in his seat, and she removed the spoon, carelessly tossing it on the desk.  "We did the pool too," he said, scratching his neck.  "It was to help us hold our breath longer, or something."


"How long can you hold it?"  She asked.


"'Bout an hour," he said with a nod, feeling a small trace of pride until he realized that she didn't really need to hold her breath.  If she wanted to, she could sleep in water.


"Well, to get back to your question," Daisy said, clearing her throat, "your cellular mutation could continue until your death, but what I can see so far, the most drastic visual change will be your eyes, and perhaps your skin once we land."  She closed her inner eyelids, watching him from behind the clear membrane, and Max found himself unconsciously recoiling from her.  She blinked twice, and it was like it had never happened.  "To help get you adapted to the rays from the new sun, you'll be put in what's called the 'light-box'.  Cleverly named, I know, but it's apt.  For a minimum of an hour each day, you will have to stay in there.  The effect of the light is very harsh, and you will develop the nictitating membrane to protect your retina."




"The inner eyelid," she offered.  "The light will also help your skin adapt to the rays.  Your eyes will itch and you will swear you're developing skin cancer, but it's not so bad after a week or so."


Max aware of what she was saying as well as the implications.  "The... the others won't be able to go out in the, um..." he frowned, trailing off.


"They can not be exposed to Terra Mage's atmosphere in any form without severe injury," she clarified.  "The sunlight will burn them to such an extent that it will look like they were sprayed with acid.  Likewise, the 'air' is extremely toxic, they won't be able to have a single breath of it with being poisoned.  Only the people who have had their DNA corrupted will be able to go outside without specialized suits and extensive care."


"But- but, why would they come like this?"  Max asked incredulously, leaning on his knees.  "I mean, everything they do, everything- how could you live like that?  There's no return... they're going to be living the rest of their lives like that."


"Well, some people don't want to change into something that they're not," Daisy pointed out.  "You seemed to know who I was, so either Adrian was telling tales out of class, or you saw me on the news.  People don't like freaks, they never have, and they certainly don't want to become them.  Besides, a lot of people believe within a few years the air will be nearly breathable."


"But what about Solas Lux?  What are they going to do about that?"  Max asked, and she shrugged again.


"I guess we'll have to invent a sunscreen for them," she said somewhat sarcastically.


Her flippant answer lodged an uncomfortable thought in his mind.  "There are people on the station who don't like, uh, us?"  He asked, and she cocked her head.


"First, I'm going to mention a fact that I' not sure you're really ready to face," Daisy said.  "You're refusing to look at the fact that, as divisionary as it might seem, there is a difference in between them and us.  The quicker you can accept that you are no longer technical human, the quicker you can accept that they are still human, and you can get on with your life."


Max made a noise in his throat.  "I'm still human, I just-"


"No," Daisy said firmly.  "From your atoms onward, you are no longer human, no matter what you were born."  She gave him a minute before delivering the next blow.  "I don't want to be the cause of any prejudice, but yes, there are a few people who aren't exactly pleased to have you or me on the station, and I fear that's going to get worse when someone's getting a tan while they're locked up in an over-glorified hut.  You know how it feels to get stir-crazy on a ship?  Can you imagine what it would be like when true freedom is closer than that?"  She held her fingers barest millimetres apart.


"And the more we change, the more they'll hate us," Max said, touching his chest, feeling a little panicked.  He didn't like the thought of being treated like Frankenstein's monster.  Daisy's expression softened, and she leaned forward, patting his knee.


"It is mostly low-level stuff," she assured him, leaving out that the fact that the more they changed, they wouldn't be seen as human any more, and it would be far too easy for their former comrades to kill them.  "It's the odd comment there, or some little nonsense that will either annoy you or on a bad day hurt your feelings a little.  Now that there are more of us, that'll probably stall into nothing."


Max didn't feel convinced, but he looked at her when she made a noise.  "What?"


"To continue on your question, you can probably grow back your teeth," she said almost cheerfully, pointing at him.  "Luckily, so far my wisdom teeth haven't grown back, so it seems that it only applies to teeth you had at the moment of mutation.  Also!  Also, your skin has a higher tensile strength of what it used to be, around sixty-six point eight MPa."  She noticed his blank look.  "It's tougher, about twice as tough as it used to be.  If you fall, it'll be nothing.  No more scrapes or scratches, really, unless you get into some real hell.  As well, even though bone mass is less than it once was, they're stronger than they used to be, which means you're stronger."


Max rubbed his forehead.  "Why, though?  Why are we tougher and all that?"


Daisy thought for a moment.  "We must need it," she said finally.  "Besides, it could never hurt to be stronger than we used to be.  I was always a bit weak and wimpy, so I think it's an improvement."


He couldn't help but scoff.  "Aren't scientist supposed to be wimpy?"  He teased, and she shrugged.


"Hey, let me be tough in peace, okay?"  She said, leaning forward to gently slug him in the arm.  "That's all I can think of now, but is there anything else you want to ask me?"  He shook his head, and she clapped her hands.  "Good, then I'm going to go over your file, since you're here."  She picked up the monitor again.  "It says you had a really rough time of transition."


Reluctantly he nodded.  He didn't want to talk about it.  "I think everyone did," he told her, and she looked back at him somberly.


"Not everyone nearly died," she pointed out.  "Have you been having any problems since?  Anything.  Dizziness, headaches, nosebleeds... anything."


"No," he said stiffly.  "Goethe kept an eye on me."  He gave her a look and she arched a brow.


"Asking because I don't want you to die," she told him.  "I don't like prying into other people's lives, and I don't like making people uncomfortable for the most part, but I do have this problem where I don't like to see people suffering unnecessarily.  I may be a guinea pig in all sense of the term pretty much, but there are only two people on this ship who know how this treatment affects people."


Max made a waffling gesture with his hand.  "One more so than the other," he said to needle.


"Oh, and I was just starting to like you too," Daisy shook her head.  She held up the monitor.  "In between being grilled by you and the rest of your friends, I have been reviewing the differences in the serum that is fourth gen to mine, as well as each individual case file.  If you feel that I am inept at the present moment, I will gladly cut this meeting short."


"If I say yes, do I have to worry about getting treatment from you?"  He asked, and she snorted.


Gesturing to the door, she said, "Go on, get lost.  It's been an exhausting day, I'm sure.  You're all worked up, impatient, and no doubt tired, so I'll brush up on my homework, and you can relax."


Max didn't move.  "I wouldn't mind if we just talked," he said, leaning back in the chair, and pointed from her to himself.  "Just not a trade of information."


She nodded, biting her lip.  "That's a pity, because that's generally how I do conversation."


"Well, what was it like for you?  I know it was hell for me," Max asked, and she ran her fingers through her hair, sighing.


"Alright," she muttered, sitting on the desk.  "When, well, no I start at the beginning.  I was the one who suggested we skip animal trials and jump to humans.  We had next to no money and we wouldn't be able to continue our experiments before going broke or being shut down by our government.  There was five at the time, and some, I don't blame them, but they didn't want to risk it.  So it was three, and we drew straws, I got the short one, and I was injected a moment later.  For the first day, there was nothing, so we presumed it didn't work.  I was locked in a small room to, well, I was using a modified virus that adheres to the genetic code, so we were concerned that the virus would reactivate and we could cause a potential outbreak."


Max nodded, encouraging her to continue.


"Then,-" Daisy stopped at the sound of an odd tone, her eyes turned to the ceiling.  In a moment, an automated voice announced that it was time for supper, as well Captain Evers had an announcement, so they must proceed to the cafeteria.


"Oh, well I guess I'm spared," she said with a yawn, getting to her feet.  "It's not that interesting."


Max got up as well.  "You have gills," he pointed out.  "It's probably more interesting than you think."


She twisted her mouth so she was half-smiling and half-frowning.  "Creation of life is a miracle, but it's not interesting to hear the dissection of a baby's developmental stages," she said, and he grimaced.


"It's probably best to not say dissection and baby in the same sentence," he said, and she laughed.  "Or is that just run of the mill conversation for you?"


"Normally?  It is much, much worse," Daisy told him, looping her arm in his, leading the way down the hall.  "Can you wait to touch down?  Or are you happy to  just have a break from the shuttle?"


"I'm tired of being in space," he told her.  "I want to feel the earth beneath my feet again."  He realized he said the wrong planet again and looked at the shiny white floor under his shoes.


"I miss it too," she said, bumping her shoulder into his.  "I might have signed up to be the first, but I hadn't had any intention of leaving."


He stopped and looked at her.  "Then why did you?"


She ruffled her hair and sighed.  "At the time, I didn't have much of a choice," she explained.  "My face was everywhere it seemed... the safest place was off the planet, but I didn't know.  I didn't know, I thought I would be able to go back."


"Does your family know?"  He asked, and she shook her head.


"I don't have any family," she smiled wryly.  "I suppose that's luck, isn't it?"  She gave his arm a tug and they went on.  "I suppose it's not too bad; everyone wants to start over, don't they?  Well, I don't think you can get a better opportunity than this."


"Maybe in a few years," Max offered, and she shook her head.  It had taken them decades to get this far, it would take just as long if not more to make it so people could shuttle back and forth between planets.


"Did you know it took over a year to get to Mars?"  She asked him as they passed the halfway point.  "I mean the first human to Mars mission.  That was barely a fraction of what you have just travelled in the same amount of time.  All that advancement in such a relatively short time, and in a few weeks or so, we will be barely more advanced than old west settlers."  She looked at him and laughed.  He smiled to himself.


"The problem is that it's not going to be the same," he said, and she nodded.  "It just looked so beautiful on film, I just couldn't risk losing the opportunity to see it.  It wouldn't have come around again, not another chance."


"You would have probably been a very old man," she agreed.


"But I wouldn't have literally been barfing up my stomach," he remarked, and she held up a hand like she was offering something.


"True, but it was good for your character, yes?"  She asked.  "That is what parents say when they put their children through traumatic and damaging things?"


They reached the canteen, and Max stepped ahead of her, gesturing for her to go first.  As she passed him, he saw the almost every single seat was pulled down and occupied, he would have counted, but judging how some of the people were sitting, they were still expecting more.


He took a seat between a man he was on good terms with, Lee, and another man he had never seen before.  Looking around the room, he noticed some familiar faces were absent.  He stopped his search when his gaze landed on Charlie and Karin, who he had previously thought of as Karen.  He didn't know what the different spelling signified, but who was he to complain? 


They were both eating, ignoring the solemn looking man who was standing by the door, his presence commanding, as if he was using to people following his every word.  He was examining the people in the room with a sedate glower, gently moving his one foot forward and back, showing his impatience.


The man on Max's left shifted slightly, moving away from him.  If Daisy hadn't warned him, Max would have thought nothing of it, but the movement was now tainted with his suspicion.  He covertly glanced at the man's chest and saw that he didn't have a supra number on his chest either. 


Perhaps Daisy was the only supra who had been the first to get on the station, but he thought he recalled Goethe saying that there were more.


A few more people came in, one going over to the Captain and whispering in his ear.  The man sighed, cleared his throat and took a few steps into the middle of the room.  "Now, I'm sure you'd like to get on with it so you can eat your supper," he glared pointedly at Charlie and Karin, unintentionally getting a few laughs.  "I'm Evers, though I'm sure enough of you could figure that out.  I am pleased to see those of you who could come to hear me speak.  Unfortunately, I am under the impression that some of the newcomers having taken ill.  Hopefully, they will be feeling better soon.  I have been told that it will be at least a month before we will break for the surface, the time will be needed and spent to get the new supras adapted to the solar rays, or something along those lines."  He glanced at Daisy, who nodded subtly.  There were a few groans and muttered comments, and he raised his hands.  "Nobody wants to leave this place more than anyone else, but I think you would be thankful that it's not another year."


"This is bullshit," said the man next to Max.  "Why should we have to wait because they can't stand the sun?"


"Neither can you," Goethe stated, his voice carrying a sharp tone.  It was surprising to hear the cheerful man say anything confrontational.  It was well-known to everyone who rode the shuttle with him that he was a pacifist to the extreme.  "They need to be slowly introduced to the rays so they don't burn like you will if you step under that star," he continued.  He sat a little taller.  "Though, if you're willing to give it a try, I'm will to 'adapt' you as well, then waiting for them to change won't seem to take nearly as long."


They stared each other down for a few moments, before the man shook his head and mumbled something under his breath.


"Are you finished?"  Evers asked Goethe, who shrugged innocently.  "I will advise you all to get back into shape and to review your training.  The last thing any of us need is to have faulty housing or inadequate irrigation." He waved his hand to show the etcetera.  "Get to know the people in this room and the ones who couldn't bee here right now.  This people are your neighbours, your family, and quite possibly the ones who will save your asses if the whole things goes to hell.  Your survival is dependant on your ability to trust each other."  He looked around the room at the uncomfortable faces.  "I understand it is impossible to like everyone you meet, and you will develop individual alliances, but if it comes down to the wire, if someone is dangling off a cliff, you will be needed to reach out and pull them to safety, and they will need to be able to trust you that you won't drop them to their deaths."  He waited a beat again.  "I want you to think about that; this is not a simulation, there will not be a second chance.  One mistake could be the death of all of us, and that is the best case scenario of a bad thing.  Once we're on the ground, medical will be limited, and there is no hospitals, no spare material if you fuck up what you are given to work with.  Everyone here is specifically trained to be useful to the collective, and unlike back home, most of you are not replaceable, so think about that before you start with your petty grudges."  He ended the lecture by looking around the room, his gaze stopping on a few people to drive the point home.


Daisy clapped half-heartedly in the silence of the room.  "Good speech," she said, nodding.  "Very... nihilistic and ominous.  I liked the bit about encouraging community and familiarity, though."


Evers gave her a hard look.  "Are you done?"  He asked, and Max noticed the corner of his mouth twitch up for a second.


"I could go on if you like," she said, folding her hands in her lap.


"Alright, everyone, you can eat now," he said, and there was a small rush to the cabinets.  Evers went over and sat beside Daisy, who leaned on his shoulder, saying something softly to him.


Being jostled as he made his way to the cabinet, Max reached past several shoulders and grabbed a packet.  Pulling it towards him, he gave it an experimental squish but he couldn't figure out what it was supposed to be.  It had the name written on the side, but he never read them.  They all tasted the same to him, or at least close enough that it didn't matter.  He had figured before that he could learn what was what by feel, and he was wrong.  Perhaps he should have seen that coming seeing as how his tongue couldn't tell the difference, why should his fingers?


His seat was taken by Margaret.  Lee was grinning at her, so Max took a hint and found a seat on the opposite side of the ring.  He was several over from Daisy, who hadn't gotten up to fight through the crowd for a meal.  He moved over and sat beside her.  "You on a diet?"  He asked, and she glanced at him then swatted her stomach.


"Actually it started as another form of pressing my boundaries," she explained in a slightly bored tone, as if she was tired of talking shop.  "I held off eating and now I only need to eat every three days or so.  I could probably go longer, but I haven't pushed past that timeframe yet because after three days you're technically starving and I'm reluctant to have my stomach start eating itself."  She leaned back.  "It must get so boring, always hearing stuff like this."


Max shrugged.  "Well, normally, the people I talk to don't talk about their bodies cannibalizing themselves," he said.  "So, I can't honestly say either way.  Do you ever do normal conversation?"


"No," she shook her head.  "I have no personality.  That and my social skill set was removed when I was a child to make way for my this-ness."  She gestured to herself.  "Gosh, I don't even remember what was going on when I left.  What's new?  Or at least newer."


He thought for a moment.  "Um, new movies were released, new books, new music.  Governments lied, celebrities were in the heart of scandals, new technologies were released, things were recalled," he shrugged, opening the pouch.  "Same old, same old."


She exhaled slowly and smiled.  "Yes," she murmured.  "It doesn't change, does it?  At least I will have new titles to look over now that you have arrived.  Communications will be set up tomorrow, you will probably be eager to talk to your family, yes?"  As she spoke, her words became slightly slower, her accent making an appearance.  It showed up when they were talking in the life science office, but it had been extremely brief.  He wondered if she hid her accent on purpose, or it was just wearing away after all this time.  He had always thought it was sad when people lost their accents, it was like they were losing a piece of their history.


"They'll be happy to hear that I'm safe," he said, and looked in his pouch as he realized maybe it wasn't the best topic to be on with someone who was either an orphan or estranged from their family.  He opened his mouth to change the subject just as Goethe sat on the other side of her.


Looking from one to the other, Goethe held up his spoon.  "Am I interrupting?"  He asked, and they shook their heads.


"We're just talking," Max said, and Goethe nodded.


"I was hoping to talk to Mercutio about what has changed in the reproduction process," he said, and Daisy nodded, and made a gesture as if to say, 'yes, see what I have to put with?'  Goethe laughed.  "And she never wants to talk or do the paperwork, she always wants to jump straight to experimentation and results."


"I didn't become a scientist to read suppositions, I did it so I could play god," she said, and leaned against Max.  "I can't talk now, I have made a new friend who is probably not interested in synthetic Trojan horse viruses."


He couldn't help himself.  "That's how the, um, the whole thing works?"  Max asked, and regretted asking as he saw Goethe's eyes light up.  Daisy put her hand on Goethe's arm, stopping him before he went into teacher mode.  He felt a little sorry for him, seeing his disappointed face.


"Essentially," Daisy said.  "Adrian will say I'm oversimplifying, but a replicate virus is made so that will integrate into a person's genes, and it is pre-coded so that it will make the appropriate changes.  It's all very boring, and that is saying something if that is coming from me."


"It was your idea!"  Goethe said, sticking his spoon in the pouch.  It didn't even have the decency to tip over.


"It is boring," Max said before they could continue their mock argument.  "But, perhaps that's because I was always more of an engineer than scientist."


"Trains?"  Daisy asked, and Goethe elbowed her.


"Architectural engineer," he corrected, and it was her turn to look disappointed.  Max laughed at them.


"Why would it be trains?"  Max asked.  "There's not even going to be enough people for a town, why would we even need trains?"


Daisy looked put upon.  "I could hope," she pretended to sulk, turning her head towards Goethe when he cleared his throat, suddenly becoming more interested in his food than was realistic.  She looked across the room at the man who had been sitting next to Max.


"Who's he?"  Max asked, and she twisted her mouth.


"That would be Niemand," she said, taking a deep breath.  "You will be working closely with him, I suppose.  He's the lead structural engineer."


"Not a total shot in the dark, but he's one of the people you were mentioning earlier, isn't he?"  Max asked, and she rested her cheek in her palm, her elbow balancing on her thigh.


"... Like I said, I don't want to raise prejudices," she said.


"He was fine with it," Goethe muttered, and Daisy held up a finger before saying something in German.


She turned back to Max.  "You will be working with him, like I said," she stated firmly.


"And you don't want to poison the well," Max said, watching Niemand for a moment.


"My experiences are my own," Daisy told him.  "What I might have felt was one thing could have been caused by another."


"Always so cautious and polite," Goethe muttered, poking his supper over and over, as if he was searching for something in it.  Maybe he was looking for something edible.  "Even when people are like that..."


Daisy said something else in German, and Goethe stabbed his spoon into the pouch, raising his brows at her, but she pretended to ignore him as she turned in her seat to face Max.  "I hope you know another language," she said, changing the subject.  "It makes it a lot easier to bitch about something, or someone, if very few people can understand you.  Though I imagine you knew that already."


He shook his head.  "Not enough to converse," he said, and she clicked her tongue as she threw up a hand.


Dinner was finished and soon forgotten.  Still feeling out each side, people split in groups, some playing Ping-Pong, or cards.  Some read or watched a movie that was playing in the rec room.


Standing aside, Max let a few people jog past him, one of them was Margaret, who was puffing up her cheeks as she went along, trying to rebuild some of the muscle lost from their travels in zero gravity.
Max went around the circle, then went through part of the W, stopping before the light-box.  It had a black door that was vaguely reflective.  There was a sign beside it that warned of severe skin damage and injury to the eye.  It showed a little stick figure being cooked alive and what might have been an eyeball melting, which didn't seem very encouraging to him.  After a long time of deliberating, Max opened the door and stepped inside.  It had an sunken floor and seating so that there were places for up to fifteen people to sit.  The wall was like smoked glass, and he could see Solas Lux was still at it's plinth.  The star was closer than the one he had grown up under, giving Terra Mage twenty-eight to twenty-nine hour days.  He remembered that Terra Mage was the host to two moons, and he wondered how that would effect life in the world below.


Looking at the walls, Max finally found the controls that adjusted the opacity of the protective window.  It said 'closed' on one side of a sliding scale, and 'full open' on the other, the words separated by a series of dashes.  He counted them, seeing that there was about twenty in all.  Taking a deep breath, he clicked it to the first dash, pushing the knob deep into the track before moving it up.  A safety feature that seemed unnecessary until he clicked it up five more notches.


At the first dash, the window seemed to flicker, but he hadn't felt anything different, so he figured that it was another safety feature set in place, and moved it a quarter of the way up.  The window became nearly translucent, and it felt like the skin that was exposed was being stretched and split apart, electricity lacing up through the tears.  He was blind, completely and utterly.  Max slapped at the wall, feeling for the controls as his body burned in the light.  After several false attempts, he found it and struggled to close the window again, his shaking and peeling fingers sliding over the knob.  He wrenched it down, but the burning did not lessen.  He hoped that the window was closed now.  He imagined it wasn't and the toxic sun was burning beyond his skin and muscle down to his bones, poisoning him.


Propping himself against the wall, Max gasped, surprised when he found he was sitting on his feet.  Panting, he forced his eyes open and felt them, but he could not see.  He felt something hot and wet on his fingers, and he prayed that it wasn't blood, or worse, his actual eyeballs melting at his fingertips.


He tried to remember if there was an intercom on the control panel, and recalled the one near the door.  He stumbled through the sunken floor, falling up out of it, and felt along the wall for it, his fingers tripping over the buttons until he found the right one.


He didn't know where it connected to, he just hoped there was someone there.  "Help," he panted, then swallowed.  "Help," he repeated in a barely clear voice.  "I'm in the light-box, I'm in need of medical."


He let go of the button, waiting for a response, before repeating the message.  There was a double click, and he was asked what was the problem after being informed that a doctor was on the way.  It took Max too long to answer, he was going down again.  He couldn't hear anything above his breathing, above the sluggish beat of his heart, of the fluids dripping from his arms to the floor.  That isn't right, was all he could think as he fell backwards.


He didn't pass out, but he couldn't move, not even when the door was flung open, and people clamored around him, every sound they made was deafening.  Their touches were torture, but he couldn't move away as he was lifted onto a transport board, roughly carried to one of the med bays.  It would be the closer one, the one he had only walked past twice.


Idly, he wondered whether the blindness was permanent, his mind rolling past reason and full consciousness.  He was beyond caring, all he could do was think and there is no care in individual thoughts.


He wondered if he was crippled by what happened to him, if the exposure damaged his muscles.  He wondered if the amount of light he had received had done too much damage, if he was going to die from the trauma. 


Was it possible to die from pain?  He thought he had heard that once, but perhaps the speaker had been exaggerating.


He listened to the heartbeats around him, unable to focus on their words.  They were slow for the most part, calm and professional, this wasn't an everyday occurrence, but they had prepared for it.  The door opened, and he heard a frantic heartbeat, the voice belonging to the frantic person, it was no doubt Goethe, who fluttered around him like an anxious moth.  Again, Max thought he was such a nice man, always worrying about people, not treating them like they were test subjects even if they were.  Everyone he met, he considered them his friend.


He could hear his own blood running through his veins, and again he wondered if he was dying.  Who could hear blood besides vampires?  That was it, he was now a vampire.  That's why the sun burned.  Had he been capable, he would have been laughing at that.


A sharp sting pierced his chest, and the pain he was aware he was feeling was lessening to nothing at all, but he still could not force himself to move.  Something cold and wet encircled his arms and neck as his eyes were forced open.  Max couldn't see what was happening, but he supposed there could only be so much that was happening in the tiny room.  He guessed it would be rather predictable, especially if he, as the injured party, was the centre of attention.


Something was stuck to his face, and the same, cold, slimy stuff was wrapped around his head, covering his eyes.  He felt something get shoved in his hand, and he heard Goethe say something.  He presumed it was Goethe's fingers in his hand, but he couldn't force himself to squeeze them.


The burns itched and tingled.  It felt like his flesh had been packed to the bursting point with wasps, and they writhed and buzzed angrily, climbing over themselves to be free from his skin.  Max tried to push the vision from his mind, but all that happened was he remembered that wasps eat meat.  Suddenly, in his mind's eye it was no longer a fight for freedom, but a buffet melee, them swarming past his bones over his muscles and organs as he was devoured alive from with in, while he was powerless to defend his fragile body.


Perhaps it was too much for him, or perhaps they saw the rise in his heart rate, but thankfully he couldn't think any more and sank into oblivion, the wasps fleeing his mind.


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