Across The Universe

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


Chapter 5 (v.1) - 5

Submitted: May 20, 2018

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Submitted: May 20, 2018



The noise was woke Max up.  He couldn't see, so he clumsily raised his hand to face, feeling bandage rub against bandage.  A little below his eye he felt something rubbery covering his face.  It was a breathing apparatus.  Pulling his hand back, he heard a shift of a magnetic chair being pushed back as someone got to their feet.


"Can you hear me?"  Goethe asked, gingerly taking him hand, and Max gave it a squeeze.


"Yeah," he breathed.


"Do you know what happened?"  Asked a second voice, and it took him a moment to place it to Daisy.


He remembered the room, the excruciation, the blinding light.  "Yeah," he repeated.


"Good, than there's no need for a lecture," she said, her voice clipped, and he guessed she had been in a heavy discussion with Goethe about lambasting him over the incident.


"But-" Goethe started, and Max guessed he wasn't ready to give up.


"But nothing!  You might want to say it, but no one wants to hear it!"  Daisy snapped.  "Would you?"  Max heard her move closer, her hands gently resting on his bed, one hand by his head the other by his wrist.  "You will be up and about by late tomorrow, but you will not be able to go into the room for a few days, until Dr. Ortega says, though I doubt you'll want to."  There was a shift as she turned her face away from him to Goethe.  "He was in a lot of pain," she said, her tone softer.


"I can appreciate that, I just don't want another mistake, he could have-" Goethe cut himself off, but it was easy enough to decipher how the sentence ended.  Simultaneously, Max could believe that the sun could kill him, but also shocked that such as small amount could do so much damage.  How much longer did it take for such a small amount of light to kill?


"Am I blind?"  He asked, and there was a hideously long pause.


"...It might be too soon to tell," Goethe hedged, and Max could feel him shift.  It was almost as if he could see him move, only it was impossible to say how.  Perhaps it was like seeing the world move around you in total darkness, or a touch of intuitive notion.


"We'll find out tomorrow," Daisy told him.  "Your mutation might save you, though.  It's designed to protect you, to adapt you to whatever threats."  She half-laughed.  "Who knows, you might become the most advanced out of all of us."


"You think I'm blind," Max stated, and they paused again, no doubt looking at each other.  "What will happen to me if... that's the case?"


"Uh, well," Goethe began, then coughed, clearing his throat, something he did to stall as he tried to find the right answers.  "It's not like we're just going to send you out to fend for yourself."


"There is a small device that Evers uses," Daisy said.  "You might have noticed a small flexible rod that sat on his temple?  He has a degenerative disorder that makes his eyesight suffer.  The rod is a camera of sorts and it hooks around your ear, describing what it sees.  One will be made for you, and you will live a fairly normal life."


"But we are getting ahead of ourselves, there may be nothing wrong with you aside from being burnt, and while that is terrible, you could be otherwise fine," Goethe stopped when he was aware of the fact that he repeated himself.  "But we're going to stay here with you, so you don't have to worry.  Anything you want, one of us can get it for you, alright?" 


Max was about to say he didn't need them to do that, but then he realized he didn't want to be alone, unseeing in a strange place, the rasp of his mask deafening.  He touched it again, and one of them gently moved his hand away.


"You were having difficulty breathing earlier," Daisy told him.  "So you get canned air."


The rest of the night passed in fits and starts as Max dozed, and they talked randomly, trying to find a common ground that was easy and if possible, soothing.


"Terra Mage has point six the gravity of Earth," Daisy said at one point.  "So it is silly that we are using Earth's standard right now."


"Are you saying that we should change it?"  Goethe asked, pretending to be scandalized.  "We're used to the standard, why change it now?"


"Well, it would put a bounce in your step," she pointed out.


"Not to be the idiot, but-"


"You'll do it anyways," Daisy teased.


"But, what's point six in fractions?  I never got the handle of decimals," Max continued.


"Point six, uh, that'll be, um," Goethe groaned, "that's... crap.  What is it?"


Daisy clicked her tongue.  "Why do you do this to me?  It's, mm, it-"




"Three fifths," Goethe announced, and Daisy made an indignant sound.




"Every time!  Every time you ask me, you answer before I can!"


"So that's more than Mars," Max said, and there were noises to tell him was right.  "So enough to make life enjoyable, but not enough to be a pain."


Goethe made a sound in his throat.  "That depends," he said.  "With less gravity, there is less bone density, so people might be more susceptible to broken legs and the like."



"But everything will be two fifths lighter, so you can pretend to be Superman," Daisy said.  "At least, that's my plan."



At another point Max woke up to hear them talking in whispered German, which switched to rapid-fire Italian.  He didn't want to interrupt, so he just pushed back and waited for sleep to carry him away again.



When he woke the last time in the med bay, he felt that one of them were missing.  He listened and realized he couldn't hear a heartbeat, so it left the logical conclusion that it was Daisy.  He felt her touch his hand.



"Something's changed," she said quietly.  "Do you know what it is?"  He was silent, and she sighed.  "You know, it used to be believed that when a person lost a sense, the others would expand to replace it.  Do you think it's true?"



Max hesitated.  "I'll see when they tell me that I'm blind," he told her, but she didn't say anything else.  "I can hear you," he offered, but there was more silence.  "I mean, I can hear everything, I heard my arms bleeding, and I can't even describe that.  How- I don't..."  He shook his head, trailing off.



"That's it?"  She asked after a moment or two, and he was about to asked her if that was enough, though he suddenly saw that it wasn't, or at least it wasn't all of it.



"I can smell you as well," he said a little awkwardly.  "You soap, that weird bitter smell, the salt- it's- it sounds insane, but I can.  And I... well, I can, I dunno, feel you there.  It was the same when Goethe was in the room.  It was like I could see him move."  She remained silent, and he knew it then.  "So can you."



"Yes, but I think I took the longer route to it," she told him.  "I didn't try to burn myself I alive, I just nearly drowned.  They had to shock me back to life.  Charlie thought that it was not a product of the modification, but an effect of such a close encounter with death."



"Charlie's one of the-"  he trailed off as she nodded.



"He calls it the 'Raccoon Effect'," she went on.  "Because raccoons can 'see' more with their front paws than their eyes, it seems."



"Cool," Max said.  "What time is it?  Daylight, right?"



"Close enough."



"Then can you take this damn thing off me?"  He pointed to his head.  "I get that you're not a medical doctor, but it's driving me up the wall."



"You don't think you can wait a few more hours?  It will be better if you can," she told him.



"I rather not," Max told her.



"How about I call Dr. Ortega?  See what he has to say?"



Reluctantly Max gave her the go ahead, and she used the intercom to page the doctor.  Leaning against the table,  his hand wrapped around it.  "I lied," he told her.



"About what, exactly?"  She asked, and he could hear the suspicion in her voice.



"To my family," he went on, wondering why he suddenly decided that confessions were necessary to bond with strangers.  "They think I can come back, I just went along with it, I didn't tell them that that sort of travel won't be available until I'm old or even dead."



"Why?"  She asked, turning, his hand in hers.



"... Because it was easier," he admitted unhappily.  "I had already signed up, I would have trouble getting out of it, so I just said- agreed that it wouldn't be too long, just a few years, then I'd come back and see them.  I thought maybe it would be nicer for them too, but how am I going to keep talking about coming back when there'll never be a chance."



"You could wait until your imagined deadline comes nearer, and then you can tell them," she said, giving him the answer that he hadn't expected.  He was expecting disgust and anger, but here she was, telling him to continue lying.  "You started the lie, and it will only hurt them more to find out that you seemed to have fled their arms, I think, so it would be kindest to let them think that the tech has been pushed back, that it wasn't you but a flaw in the overarching plans."



"You don't think that's going to hurt them?"



"I think it's going to devastate them, but being apart, it will soften the blow a little," she told him.



"let them get used to me being gone," he confirmed and she nodded.  "Do you miss Earth?"



"More than I'll miss this station," she answered as the doors opened and Ortega came in.  Daisy left as Max was checked over, his bandages peeled back slightly so Ortega could see how the salve was healing the wounds.



"How do they feel?"  Ortega asked, snipping the wrap that covered his eyes.



"They itch," Max said, but thinking that it was so much better than feeling like there were insects swarming under his skin.



"No pain?"



"None," Max assured him.



"You're a quick healer," Ortega stated, gently wiping the slime out of his eyes.  The words shocked Max, who had never been a quick healer, it took him forever to heal from the slightly scratch.  "Open your eyes.  A good one too!  Your eyes are a little red, but I would say that they don't look burned.  Irritated and slightly damaged, but not like they suffered from radioactive rays."



Max looked around the room, but it was nothing but cloudy shapes and shadows.  "I can't see any details," he told him.



"I'd be surprised if you could, to be honest," Ortega told him.  "You sustained a lot of trauma.  It's going to be a while before your sight returns, even then it might not be as good as it once was.  I'm going to let you breath, then I'll put new bandages on."



Patiently, Max held still as he was wrapped up in what Ortega called Phase Two gauze, which was suppose to accelerate superficial and deep tissue damage.  The worst of the burns should be gone by the next day.



"How long have you been here?"  Max asked, and he felt Ortega shrug.



"I came when they were towing the station across the universe," Ortega sighed, sticking sterile pads to Max's eyes.  "I was on the first ship, and sometimes I wonder why I came.  It's been five years, and I haven't set foot on Terra yet.  Sometimes I've been tempted to open the emergency hatch, y'know?"



Remembering the feeling on the cramped shuttle, the total darkness outside the windows, the deathly still air, Max nodded.  "The need for fresh air temporarily overrides your sense," he agreed.



"A month seems an impossibly long time," Ortega told him, taping the pads in place.  "Which is funny, seeing as how long I've waited so far."



"Were you given the shot?"  Max asked impulsively, resting his elbows on his knees.



"No," Ortega said, taking his arm and helping him jump down.  "I suspect you'd like something to eat.  No, I was here before the serum was put through the last of the trials.  It was a sort of optimistic move for them to send us out before anything was actually confirmed, but you can't fault people for being hopeful."



"Well, it would be a fairly steep thing if they had been wrong, wouldn't it?"  Max asked as he was lead down the hallway.


"It's interesting that you don't think they're wrong now," Ortega remarked soberly.  "You're only the third gen.  Four serums were made; the first went to the rats, the second went to Adam and Eve, the third went to the forgotten crew, the fourth to you.  There's still plenty of time to see if it fails as well."


"The forgotten crew?"  Max repeated, and felt Ortega exhale.



"They should have told you," Ortega said sadly.  "They're the one's the died.  Twenty-four of them, all dead."



"You're making that up," Max said, feeling his pulse jump despite himself.  "You're just trying to freak me out."




"No, I just think you're misinformed," Ortega said.  "There were flaws with Adam-"



"Yeah, he battered himself to death," Max said, shaking his head and regretting it, his eyes felt like they were going to pop out of his head.



"He was too... primal, shall we say?  More caveman than human," he said with heavy emphasis.  Max knew he was supposed to be reading between the lines here, but he had no idea what Ortega was insinuating.





"Meaning that Eve was the first human converted, so they hadn't figured that there would be unseen negative effects in another," Ortega said, sounding irritated that he had to spell it out.  "Adam could do almost everything she could do, so no one worried, until he became aggressive.  Supras are stronger, yeah?  Well, he supposed he was superior, and Eve was a perfect match, so to speak.  Are you catching my drift?" 
Max's steps faltered and he turned his unseeing face towards the doctor, not wanting to speak his guess. 


Ortega seemed to shrug as he kept walking.  "She rejected him, and he was separated to keep her safe, and he threw himself on the walls of his cells until he battered himself to death.  It wasn't just some testosterone fueled rampage, it was something more sinister.  To remove the danger of this happening again, serum three was redesigned, a complete overhaul, and it was like pouring acid in the test subjects veins.  An altered combination of all three serums is what you have, if I am under the right impression, so you may change like the rats, you may become hyper-aggressive, or you'll just die."



"Thank you," Max mumbled, not liking what he was hearing.  It couldn't be truth, they could not have just been so slap-dash about this, there were human lives on the line.  He remembered Rebecca cell, the floor flooded with her blood.  He remembered them carrying Victor out of the oxygen depravation tank, his mind leaking out of his mouth.  Lives were on the line, but how much did they matter?



"I will get my shot when we land," Ortega went on, as if oblivious of the discomfort Max was showing.  "Like hell I will live the rest of my life indoors."



His mind preoccupied, Max felt a hand on his elbow as Ortega stopped him, and the wall was tapped.  "Here we are," Ortega announced.  "What do you want to eat?"  For some odd reason, Max didn't feel exceptionally hungry right then, his mind creating wonderfully vivid videos of his imagined Adam throwing himself at the walls of his cell until his head caved it.  He hated to think of how it must have been for Daisy, the whole thing, then to have someone who might be able to sympathize...



"Surprise me," Max said, taking his seat.  There were a few late stragglers eating, and their voices lowered dramatically when he came into the canteen.  Common opinion in the room then was that he was too stupid to survive on Earth let alone Terra Mage, which didn't feel very fair, but seeing as how he might have permanently damaged his eyes, he didn't feel like rebuking them or arguing the verdict.



An open packet of food was shoved in his hands as well as an edible spoon, and Ortega told him he had to go and do inventory  to see what was left of his supplies, which Max felt was worrying.  How limited were the supplies?  He knew that the original stuff they needed would run out, like the rations and emergency medical equipment, but he felt it was a distant thing to worry about, like the fact the food could last for six years, or maybe a little longer if they tightened their belts.  What would happened when the basics started to peter out, like water purifiers or wound sealants?



Suddenly, it felt like the whole mission was half-cocked and badly planned.  His brother had been a huge history nerd, reveling in the written words of settlers and pioneers, and while there had been enough through history to make sure humans didn't die out, plenty had perished and there had been a frighteningly high infant mortality rate.



"It's good to see you're still alive," he heard as the seat beside him was pulled down.  Lee sat next to him, demanding to know which part was rumour and which was truth.  Tiredly, Max explained the whole fiasco to the best of his abilities, resigning himself to the fact that if they were going to think he was a moron, they were going to do that no matter what now that the incident had happened.



"How does it look?"  Max asked, grimacing as he waited for the fateful answer.



"Darker," Lee told him.



"What's that supposed to mean?"



"No, it's just- you're just darker, that's all," Lee told him.  "In fact, if you weren't blindfolded, I would have just passed the gossip off as simple bullshit."



Max remembered the gore dripping from his fingers before he fell to the floor, the blood raining from his face from the burns.  He knew that there was advanced medical potions and the like for the trip, but he still couldn't help but wonder which healed him was the supra mutation or the salves.  Hadn't Goethe stated that their healing abilities would increase dramatically?



"So, how many notches on the dial were there?"  Lee went on, shifting in his chair.  "Like, do you know if it's going to be a notch a day, or it's going to take a week to get through three?"






"Gah, who isn't by now?  Anybody who's acting cool is simply pretending," Lee told him.  "I mean, it's mostly yellow sand down there, but aren't you ready to get down there and breathe some fresh air?"



Thinking about the ninety-seven to one point three nitrogen/oxygen ratio, Max couldn't help but feel that it might be a while still before they were breathing air that didn't come straight from a can.



"I think there were eight," Max told him, but truth be told, he couldn't remember how many there had been.  It could have been eighty for all he knew, but a lower number seemed to be easier to deal with when people were getting close to ripping out each other's hair.  True, the change from the shuttle to the station made it a little better for him, but the relief wasn't going to last long, everyone knew it, and they were uneasy because of it.  "Ask Daisy if you want to know how long it's going to take."



There was silence for a moment.  "Did you notice her hands?"  Lee asked, as if it had been possible to miss something that stood out so much, as if her thumbs weren't too long, her hands moving in impossibly complicated manners so that she could execute simple tasks.  "Gah, I hope that doesn't happen to us, it's disturbing."



Max said nothing and shifted uncomfortably on the hard seat.  He didn't want to have his hands warped like that either, but it seemed harsh the way Lee said it.  Was that what was going to be said behind their backs, 'oh, it'd hate to have this, that, the other, it's hideous and disgusting'?



"How's your hearing?"  He changed the subject.  He should have asked Daisy if the difference in audio was changed before or after being submitted to the solar rays, it should be before, at least he figured it would be, seeing as how the sun would have no effect on his hearing.



"It's fine, how's yours?"  Lee asked, And Max shrugged, knowing that it hadn't happened to him yet.  It didn't matter; it seemed that the changes didn't always happen at the same times or in the same order.  That said, he might still have a chance to grow gills and a few extra joints.  He supposed in time they'd get over it, just another piece of the human jigsaw.  Supra.  It was hard to think of himself as something as other than what he had been his whole life, and Max really wondered if it was necessary to view them in two groups as Daisy had suggested.  They were going to be living together for the rest of their lives, it made sense to view themselves as one, didn't it?  That way they wouldn't be constantly putting up a divide.



He asked Lee for his opinion.


"Yeah, I have been for a while," Lee said casually.  "It just sort of happened; them, us.  You don't?"



"I haven't been, no," Max sighed, not liking this.  "I don't see a point.È


"There's no point, it's just natural," Lee explained, "especially when you see how they look at us."  Max turned his face towards him.  "Ah, shit, sorry!"  Lee apologized.



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