Sunday, 6 October 2013

Ditched (part 1)

  Everything is a mess. I am a mess. This isn't anything new.

  Everything hurts. Something is burning somewhere, I can smell that, its probably why I can't breathe so well. I can't see so well, either, a blur, half a blur, one eye doesn't seem to be working. I try to move my hand to touch my face but a stab of pain almost sends me back into unconsciousness. I lie still while it subsides.

  Nearly everything hurts, nothing below my waist hurts, but neither does it respond to my efforts to move it, I guess I won't be dancing any time soon.

  Dancing, the lights sweeping across the floor, the band filling the room with the beat and melody, and her, eyes beaming, hair streaming out as we flew together between others. Two people as a comet.

  I try to place the memory, but draw a blank. She doesn't even have a name. It occurs to me that I don't even know where I am now, why am I here and what I did to deserve this pain.

  I am lying on my back in the wreckage of something. There is a groaning noise and the world moves slightly and then settles again. I concentrate on my eye again and manage to get some kind of focus. Just above me is some kind of chair and control apparatus, part of a vehicle of some kind.

  We are crammed close on the seat made for one person. I steady her hand on the stick. Giggling we fumble together for the throttle, laughing at the voice of the computer warnings.

  Something coalesces by my head, a man crouched next to me. Bizarrely he is wearing a white suit, is somehow sharper than his surroundings and glows slightly. Is he an......?

  “Before we start, no. I am not an Angel, get that out of your head.” His voice is clear, clearer than I feel it should be. “Really, why is that the first thing you always think of? The Angels are gone, they left long ago, forget about them.”

  Something about the dark skin, the long nose, the deep liquid eyes, the disapproving lips and the floppy black hair is familiar. I file it under things I really should know but are failing to make much sense. I feel the whole world could fit in there and I can go back to lying on my back in agony.

  She is there by my bedside, her face is framed by her hair, made hazy by the drugs. Somewhere there is the noise of a busy hospital, but she is all I can focus on. I try to raise my hand to stroke hers, but it seems to be tied down.

  “Hey, stay with me.” He waves a hand in front of my eye, I think I might be able to see through it. “You might need to move quickly. Well, relatively quickly. We're going to turn the pain down a bit, keep still and try not to panic.”

  I open my mouth and try to ask him what I was supposed to not panic about, but I can't even make a croak. The pain ebbs as though it was the tide, there is no increase in fuzziness, so it must be direct neural intervention, not pharmaceutical. My thinking seems clearer, or at least more able to grasp abstract concepts.

Somewhere some liquid is dripping. A broken fuel line? Or something less dangerous, hydraulic fluid or a coolant. Whatever happened, this vehicle is not going anywhere in a hurry, not under its own power, anyway. I lie there for minutes or maybe hours, listening to the dripping.

  The rain has finished, but the water still drips from the pine trees. We are arm in arm on the veranda of a little log cabin, miles from anyone. We huddle together watching the insects and the birds come out of hiding and begin their evening flights.

  “Okay, things are really starting to happen now. First the other lung and then we can start restoring motor control.” His white suit has acquired colour, a deep blue, brass buttons, some sort of military uniform. “How are you doing there? Comfortable? Concussed? Constipated? Confused? You lost it completely and now I'm hanging around an empty shell? No, I certainly don't have the luck for that. You've jarred you brain and fucked up your memory. Again. Let me guess, you haven't got a fucking clue where you are, why you are here, who the fuck I am, or why I would even bother to help such a fucked up individual as yourself.”

  The vehemence is sudden, I feel like I should be wiping spittle off my face. He stops, takes a breath and adjusts his jacket cuffs before continuing.

  “Well, I can't answer the last one. Look, I know everything is confusing, you're in some pain and everything reminds you of some girl whose name you can't recall. I need you to know that, despite everything you've done and are probably about to do, I'm your friend.” I believe him there, the touch of tenderness on his features, a friend that I have betrayed. My mind fishes for a name. “As for the girl, I'm not doing that again, you can tell me her name if and when it returns to you. Above all, I need you not to panic, can you do that for me?”

I'm still am unsure what I should not be panicking over. I flick my eye around in its socket to see if there is anything threatening within sight. I notice my companion doesn't quite move in time with his surroundings, I am beginning to suspect he might be not quite real, I consider panicking over this, but madness seems the least of my concerns. Beyond the upside-down chair there is only twisted metal, broken composites and trailing fibre-optics, this thing is not in a fit state to fly.

  I ignore the screams and sobs of the other passengers, ignore the buffeting and pull my way to the front of the compartment. The door to the cockpit is locked, of course, but in these old, re-purposed TRA-119's there's still an electronic override. I put my pilot's watch against the pad and push myself through as the door opens. The co-pilot looks up in alarm as I re-lock the door behind me, he is yammering on to his controller on the radio.

  The pilot is in a bad way, something has gone wrong with the computer systems and fed back into her implanted visual interface, a deliberate attack, most likely. She hangs against her seatbelts and drools. The co-pilot reaches for some kind of stun device, but he is strapped in and cannot bring it to bear before I have anchored myself to a grab handle and twisted it out of his grip; I apply it to his neck before he has time to protest.

  I secure the co-pilot in the chair originally designed to carry a tactical and counter-measure specialist, but spare in this hasty civilian conversion. I seat myself in front of the controls, there are a few added civilian niceties, but its the same old unstable bird. I clip on my earpiece and let my watch connect it to the radio.

  “Respond, inbound 38, please respond.”

  “Shut up, control, this is the situation, the pilot is fried, the co-pilot has been relieved of duty under suspicion of sabotage, you have three hundred people about to die a fiery death unless you do what I say. I need you to patch me through to the Atmospheric Control Centre at Heathrow, I need you to calculate exactly where this bird is going to hit and I need you to tell me how to bypass all the shit you've added to this pile of junk so that I can activate manual thrusters.”

  “Who are you? You can't land a 119 manually, they're too twitchy.”

  “I'm used to coming in hot, I flew orbital insertion during the war, I cut my teeth on these old wrecks. Now do as I say or I will aim this right for your building.”

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