Discovery

I wrote Discovery a few years ago as a sort of homage to the Outer Limits. I used to love that show and I always liked how each story had some kind of crazy twist at the end. A friend of mine actually made a short student film based on a non-sci-fi version of this story, which was kinda cool. This is definately rated M for mature, so be warned.

Discovery

The body swam in a pool of blood and the stench of rotting meat filled my nostrils and made my stomach heave. Covering my nose with the handkerchief that I’ve made a habit to carry on me for moments such as this, I watched as one of the younger officers ran to the next room to empty his lunch into a sink. Welcome to life on Discovery.

Discovery is a deep space exploration station whose mission is to travel the unmapped regions of space and document anything that might make the scientists back on Earth wet themselves with glee; or at the very least, to find new planets rich with resources we can either harvest or colonize. We left Earth just over sixteen months ago for what was supposed to be a three year mission. Right now I’m wondering if we’ll even make it past this month.

Discovery was named after the NASA space shuttle from the late twentieth century America, back before the United Earth Nations were formed. The powers-that-be felt that the name would inspire us to “boldly go”. Personally, I think it was just a great PR stunt. The security officers had begun to joke that the station was really named Discovery because every morning we “discover” a new body. I’m not amused.

It was believed by the people who get paid to think shit up for a living that sending out a huge mobile space station filled with all the comforts of home would help to combat the bouts of space sickness that typically plagued similar missions such as ours. Unfortunately, the last two months seem to have proved them wrong; and all the extra people: the families, shopkeepers, technicians, et cetera, have just provided a wider range of victims, if not potential threats themselves.

Space sickness is what happens to someone when they’ve been out in space for too long. Usually it only happens to people who have been stuck on a confined spacecraft for long periods of time. The symptoms can be different for everyone but the end result tends to be the same: insanity.

The first victim was a young woman who worked for one of the various cafes we have on our entertainment level. She was single, white, about twenty years of age, and she was found with as many stab wounds on her body. Unfortunately, there were no signs of forced entry, no hairs, no bloody murder weapon with fingerprints. There wasn’t so much as a dust mite in her apartment. She lived alone. Had no family on the station, apparently no friends, and she kept to herself. To sum up, we had jack to go on.

Next up was a double homicide, which was not nearly as clean: An elderly man and woman found with their throats slit. The man was a member of the custodial staff who had reportedly volunteered for the mission so that he and his wife could have one last “adventure” before they retired. This time the murder weapon, a knife, was found on the scene. Lucky for us, it had a crazed lunatic attached. A few shouted orders and about ten gunshots later the case was closed.

Murders keep occurring that way across the station, about one every few days. Sometimes they end up like the elderly couple case, where the crime scene is messy and the killer, gone space sick, is easy to find. It’s the others that have me worried. Not that the space sickness that appears to be running rampant doesn’t worry me, but these other murders appear to be planned. They’re clean, efficient, and leave no trail, which leads me to believe that some nut, or perhaps an entire sack, is using the current situation to cover up their own bloody agenda.

People all over the station are starting to get more than a little paranoid and reports of assaults from overzealous “self defenders” have been flooding the security office. The best part is since I’m head of security they look to me to correct the problem; as if I haven’t been trying since we found the first human sprinkler watering her apartment floor two months ago.

Now we have today’s victim: A member of my own security force. His name was Lt. Daniel McGregor, a warm young man with a decent sense of humor. Danny was the kind of guy that tends to light up the room with his personality and make you smile just being around him. Everyone in the security office loved him, and because he was the youngest he had become the kid brother of our little “family.” He was only twenty-two. Now I’m pissed.

“So what’s the story Doc?”

Jack “Doc” Kelvin, our resident physician and wise-ass, glanced up at me. “He’s dead, Jim.”

I rolled my eyes and temporarily lowered the handkerchief from my nose. “Har, har.”

Doc smiled weakly as he stood and ran a hand through his hair. It had started to go from brunette to gray in the last year since we had left Earth, as had his moustache, which began to twitch as he talked just like it always did when he was disturbed but was trying not to show it. “Well, cause of death was a knife, or some other sharp object, through the base of the skull. Looks like the poor boy put up a fight though. There are multiple bruises all over the body, and his knuckles are split.”

“Just like Danny-Boy to go down swingin!” One of the officers muttered.

Another spat. “Damn straight! I hope he broke the bastards jaw!”

I waved them down and gestured towards the door. “We all feel that way guys. Why don’t you go ahead and take off so the clean up guys have room to work. Give everyone a call and tell them I want a full assembly in fifteen minutes. I’ll meet you down at HQ.”

“You got it, Cap.”

They all filed out as what we’ve dubbed the “clean up crew” came in and took the body down to the morgue and started to clean up the blood. I stood and watched for a few seconds before turning back to Doc. “I take it this is another one of the ‘clean’ ones?”

Doc looked pained as he nodded. “No murder weapon, no evidence on the body. The others didn’t find anything either.”

“Dammit!” I slammed my fist against the nearby wall, which made the clean up guys glance up excitedly.

Doc patted me on the back. “I’m sorry, Jim. I know how hard this all has been on you, but now to lose one of your own…”

He trailed off as he saw the look in my eye. “I’m going to get the bastard, Doc. When I do he’s going to wish to God that he never stepped foot on my station.”

He nodded. “I expected no less, but the others…”

I arched an eyebrow as I allowed him to lead me out of the room and I put my handkerchief back into its pocket. “What about ‘em?”

He took a second before answering, no doubt choosing his words carefully. “Well, they’re just are on edge.”

“What the hell do you expect? We have cases of assaults taking place all over the station along with, what, twenty or so murders? And this last was one was Danny. Little Danny. Sonnuva bitch, Doc! He was only twenty-two!

He nodded and grasped my shoulder, forcing me to stop. “I know Jim, but what I’m saying is you have to be careful. They’re on edge and everyone is paranoid. It wouldn’t be very good for officers to stop anyone who looks ‘suspicious’ and beat the tar out of them. Get what I’m saying?”

I knocked his arm away a bit more forcefully than I meant to. “Yeah, I got it. I’ll keep an eye out.” I started to make my way over to the lift as he followed me with his eyes. “Send me your full report when you’re finished, Doc.”

The lift doors cut off his response as they closed behind me. I felt a bit guilty for the way I treated him. After all, he had a valid point; but I knew I was already going to get at least one lecture today from the higher ups and I didn’t need another from my best friend. Besides, the sting of losing Danny was still fresh and I wasn’t in the mood to be civil.

I held the destination button and muttered, “Security.” The lift beeped to let me know it had received my destination; then it took off. I felt my stomach doing flip-flops as it moved through the right tubes to reach my office. Up, right, down, right, up, left. It made me wish for the days when everything was just built on top of each other and elevators only went up or down. By the time the lift dinged to let me know that I was there, the small pounding that had been forming at my temples had become a full-blown migraine.

I stepped out of the lift and into the security office. I saw that everyone had assembled as I had ordered…with one exception. I wasn’t suprised. I did my best to put on my “strong and fearless leader” face as they parted like the Red Sea to let me through. They nodded as I passed; most eyes red-rimmed from recent crying, some still with tears rolling lazily down a cheek. I pretended that I didn’t see it and kept moving. When I got to my desk I turned to address everyone.

“I know you are all hurting. I am too. Danny was a good man, a part of our family, and he deserved much better than what he got. Now we have to take that pain, and use it. We have to focus all that rage we feel inside, and put it into finding the sick son of a bitch that did it to him.”

There was a low current of muttered approval and vows of revenge. I let it go. I realized what Doc had warned me about was a valid concern, but to be honest, I didn’t care. Just then Raynard stepped off the lift, looking like he had slept in his uniform.

He was about my age as near as I could tell, a narrow face with a permanent five ‘o clock shadow and a leer that seemed to be permanently plastered into place. He matched my height, about 6’1, and had close to my build. His hair lay in a greasy mess on top of his head, and he was working a hand through it now, as though he were making a small attempt to appear like a civil human being. The others always ignored him, as they did now, which didn’t seem to bother him. He was more than content with getting attention from me. I decided to take the other officers’ unspoken advice and did the same as I finished up.

“Alright boys and girls, I know you’re haggard, worn out, and feel like you’ve been beaten up, but we’ve gotta keep going. I want patrols moving out to cover every sector twenty-four/seven until we find this nut job. You’re to report in every thirty minutes, and no one is to go out alone. You stick with your partner and you cover each other’s ass, got it?”

Heads nodded and muttered “yeahs” echoed throughout the room. I gave a tight nod. “Alright, then let’s get to it. First shift, head out. The rest of you better get some rest. You’ll need it.”

The group dispersed, trickling off into the few lifts we had- everyone but Raynard. He sat on top of a desk, casually working his jaw with a hand and grinning up at me. I had the strongest urge to wipe that grin off his face with my fist. “I called for a full assembly, so where the hell were you?”

He shrugged lazily. “Oops.”

As I moved in closer, about to verbally rip his head off, I noticed that he had a bruise on the side of his jaw where his hand was rubbing. I stopped mid-stride. “What happened?”

His hand paused mid-motion, as if he just realized what he had been doing, then shrugged again. “I fell in the shower.”

I felt an icy fist grip my gut and squeeze. “Raynard, I can smell you from here. Cut the bullshit.”

He chuckled. “Why you so worried about it? It’s just a little bruise.”

“I’m not worried about you, I just want to know where you got that bruise.”

Now the smile slipped from his face and I realized that my hand had slipped down to rest on top of my gun. His face seemed to darken as he leaned forwards. “Like I said, I fell. Drop it.”

He turned to leave and when I grabbed him by the shoulder he spun and hit me across the jaw. Hard. Fireworks exploded across my vision and the migraine I already had found a partner with the blinding pain shooting from my jaw. The last thing I heard before unconsciousness abandoned me was Raynard’s laughter.

***

“Sunnuva…”

I almost fell over again as I tried to get to my feet. The migraine was still there, smiling at me as it sent pain in rhythmic jolts across my head. I felt strong arms grip me and help to pull me up.

“Woah, there. Take it easy.” Doc helped me down into a chair then pulled one up himself and gave me a worried once-over. “What happened?”

I coughed, then instantly regretted it as it amplified the pain in my head. “Raynard took a swing at me.”

“Who?”

I waved a hand. “Forget it. What are you doing here?”

He sat back and shrugged. “Well, you just didn’t look so well this morning, and after what happened I just wanted to stop in and check on you.”

I smirked as I massaged my temples. “How sweet. If you wanna help, give me something for this damn migraine.”

He gave me another worried look as he bent over and dug into his little medical bag he was always carrying around with him. He came up with a blue mouthpiece and handed it to me. I bit down on it and heard the slight hiss as the meds shot out and down my throat. He pulled out a small penlight and proceeded to check my eyes. “You been having these migraines often?”

“Naw, just every day.”

He grunted as he put his light back into his bag. “Well, I’m not going to lie to you, you look like shit.”

I chuckled. “Gee, thanks.”

His expression didn’t change. “No, seriously. I think you need to get some rest. You don’t look like you’ve slept in days and I think the migraines are just a symptom of exhaustion.”

I rubbed my hand across my jaw and sighed. “Yeah, well I don’t see me getting much rest any time soon.”

I went to stand up but fell right back into the chair again. Doc stood up and pulled out his phone. “Alright, that’s it. You are now officially on medical leave until further notice.”

“But-”

He cut me off with a wave of his hand. “Administrator Starkins? This is Jack Kelvin. Yes, I’m here with Captain Stevens. No, you can’t talk to him. He’s suffering from extreme exhaustion and I’m placing him on medical leave until further notice. Yes sir, I do realize what’s going on right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that Captain Stevens will be off duty for at least twenty-four hours. Well, sir, luckily I’m the station’s chief medical officer and I don’t need your permission. Kelvin out.”

I snorted. “He sounded pissed.”

Doc shrugged. “Ask me if I care. Come on, I’ll help you get home.”

***

Sleep was anything but restful for me. My dreams were strange things, full of half-blurred images and half-heard voices, as though they were coming from far away. When I awoke I felt even more haggard than I did before.

Doc called to check on me and he asked if I wanted him to come and give me anything to help me sleep. I replied that I was fine and reassured him the best I could, and then laid back down again. The migraine was still there, relentless in its pursuit to drive me insane. I got up and went over the slew of reports my officers had filed while I’d been out. It didn’t help my head any, but at least it gave me a sense of productivity.

My thoughts kept drifting back to my confrontation with Raynard. I was going to write him up for punching me, but then I thought better of it. His bruise raised a huge alarm in my gut. Doc had said that Danny had gotten in a few good licks before he was taken out, and if Raynard was the one we’re looking for I wanted to give him free reign so I could track his movements. Putting him on report would put him on guard and take him out of his routine and I didn’t want that. Besides, we still weren’t sure if there was one killer or several.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything I could do about it until morning since, knowing Doc, he probably had someone watching my room to make sure I’d stay put; and I didn’t want to put any more of my officers at risk if I didn’t have to. They already had enough to deal with. I just had to wait it out and hope that Raynard wouldn’t do it again.

I realized that I had already been thinking of Raynard as guilty. Maybe I wanted him to be. I knew that I shouldn’t be thinking that way, but at the same time it felt right and I’d learned a long time ago to trust my gut when it came to that sort of thing. I decided to try and lay back down again and get some more sleep. I stared out my viewport to the stars streaking by and let my thoughts drift out among them. I didn’t even hear my vidphone ring at first.

Administrator Starkins was a temperamental man on good days, and we haven’t had one of those in a long time. There was a vein that ran along his forehead and up to end where his hairline would have been had he had any, which always pulsed whenever he was upset. It was practically dancing now as he glared down at me. “Well Stevens, I hope you’re enjoying your little vacation.” His face was hard and not remotely pleasant. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what I knew was about to happen.

“Good evening Administrator. Trust me, this is the last thing I’d choose to be doing right now. Unfortunately neither you nor I have much to say about it.”

“Indeed.” His face seemed to soften, if only a tiny bit and the dark skin over the vein began to flatten. “I heard the latest victim was one of your men. I’m…sorry. I can only imagine how hard this must be on you and your people. I realize how hard you’ve all been working, and I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate it.”

I faked a cough to cover the look of pure shock that must have been plastered across my face. “Uh, thank you sir. We’re trying our best.”

He nodded sharply. “I’m sure that you are. I don’t have to tell you how bad the timing is for this kind of thing right now. I trust you’ll try to get this matter cleared up soon. Get your rest Captain, because at his rate I’m sure it’s the last you’ll be getting for quite a while.”

He didn’t wait for a reply before signing off. That was the Administrator I’ve come to know and loathe. I chuckled as I returned to my bed. Maybe it was just to spite the Administrator, but this time sleep came easily.

I woke up to the migraine that had been haunting me for what seemed like a lifetime. Doc called to see how I was doing, but didn’t seem very convinced when I told him that I felt much better. He finally came to get me at around noon. He smiled warmly as he looked me over. “Well, it’s not a vast improvement, but I guess it’s better than nothing.”

I nodded. “I really do feel better. Does this mean I get a reprieve?”

He laughed and slapped me on the back. “It means you get lunch. Come on, I’m buying.”

We ran into one of the security patrols on our way to the entertainment level. They laughed and kidded with me about having to be sent into “time out”. A thinly valed threat of “Administrator Guard Duty” cut that out pretty quick.

“The Terran’s Delight” was a small bar and grill that was tucked into a corner on the far side of the entertainment level. The food wasn’t great but it was hardly ever busy, which is why Doc and I liked it so much. The lighting was dim; the place was decorated in late 20th century Earth decor and old Earth rock played quietly over the intercom to match the setting. A perky young blonde who said that her name was Candy a bit too enthusiastically took our order in a high pitched squeal that seemed to resonate perfectly with my migraine. After bringing us our drinks she left us mercifully alone as she went to pester some guy that was sitting at the bar.

Doc laughed. “She’s new.”

I winced as I took a sip of my iced tea. “Yeah, lucky us.”

He arched an eyebrow at me. “Still having migraines?”

“Either that or a band of percussion playing circus midgets have moved into my skull.”

He frowned. “That’s really starting to concern me.”

I nodded sincerely. “Me too. I mean, how the hell did a band of circus midgets even get in there in the first place?”

“I’m being serious.”

“I’m not.”

He smiled and flipped a blue mouthpiece onto the tabletop. “Well, now that that’s been sorted out, take one of these and don’t bother calling me in the morning.”

“Heartbreaker.” I palmed the mouthpiece and stuck it in my mouth. As I bit down I heard the hiss and felt its contents shoot down my throat and took a sip of tea to help ease it along. The throbbing in my head ebbed slightly, but not enough to really do much good.

“Better?”

I shrugged. “The midgets are playing at a slower tempo.”

He took a sip of his drink. “Well, that’s something at least. I wish there was something more I could do, but that’s the strongest meds we have that won’t cause you to go into ‘happy trance’.”

“Is that the medical term for it?”

He eyeballed me over the rim of his glass. “You know, if you’d just get a few more days rest-”

I shook my head. “You know I can’t do that.”

He sighed and nodded. “I know, but you can’t blame me for trying.”

“True.”

The waitress returned with our order and I did my best to keep a smile on my face as she squeaked, “Can I get anything else for ya?”

“A gun to put me out of my misery?”

Her smile slipped and Doc managed between chuckles; “He’s kidding.”

“I’m kidding?”

“You’re kidding.”

I glanced back up at the waitress and nodded. “I’m kidding.”

“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes and wandered off.

The laughter was torture but I couldn’t help myself. By the time we were finished we both had tears streaking down our cheeks. Doc wiped his eyes with a napkin. “You’re horrible.”

“And then some.”

“That poor girl.” He shook his head in mock sympathy as he picked up his knife and fork and began to prod his food.

I shrugged. “We’ll leave a nice tip.”

“By ‘we’ you mean me.”

I spread my hands. “Exactly.”

His face went sour as he stuck the first bite into his mouth. “You’re a prince.”

“I know. Don’t rub it in.”

***

On my way back to the station, daydreaming about the mountains of paperwork I’d have waiting for me, my phone beeped. I stepped out of the flow of traffic to a little corner section in between two stores and flipped the phone open. “Stevens here.”

A woman’s voice answered, though thankfully not perky. “Captain Stevens, this is Control. We just got a call from a maintenance worker on level ten that said he heard something that sounded like a struggle coming from the room next to where he was working. Locator shows that you’re closest to that location.”

A map of level ten popped up on the phone’s screen with a little red blinking light showing me the exact location. I nodded, not that she could see it. “Alright, I’m on my way.”

“Backup is in rout. Have fun.”

Right.”

I shut the phone and replaced it back in its holster, then headed at a jog to the nearest lift tube. A balding man with glasses walking like he had a stick stuck up his ass was making his way for the same tube. He saw me coming and increased his speed to try and beat me to it. Me calling out “Wait, Security! I need that lift!” only made him move faster. I managed to catch him just before he entered and shove him out of the way. “Security business, jerkoff.”

What sounded like the first in a string of highly creative cursing was cut off as the lift door swooshed shut. I chuckled as I held the destination button and said, “Level ten.”

The lights in level ten had been twitching out for the past few days, so the only light in the hallway was the dim blue emergency lights that lined the hallway floors. The maintenance worker was waiting for me when I got there, leveling a finger at a door. “I heard a scream come from in there just a minute ago. I tried to get in but the door’s sealed.”

I nodded as I pulled my gun from its holster. “Alright, I need you to wait by the lift tubes for the other officers to get here.”

He nodded enthusiastically and took off down the hall. I pulled out a small circular device from my pocket and attached it to the door’s keypad. It stuck with a thunk as the magnetic field kicked in, and I pressed my thumb against the ID plate with my left hand and brought my gun up at the ready with my right. I took a deep breath then let it out slowly, trying to force myself to ignore the pounding in my head that was matching the racing rhythm of my heart. “Captain James Stevens. Override.”

There was a beep from the door just before it swooshed open…into a scene from my worst nightmares. A child no more than ten years old lay sprawled out on the floor, a river of blood cradling his lifeless body. A woman, who I assumed was his mother, lay a few feet away, naked, opened from groin to neck. And behind her, sitting in a bloodstained chair and rocking back and forth muttering to himself was their killer.

He was stripped to his underwear, which was soaked through with blood. His body glistened crimson as it reflected the light from the single lamp lit above. His hair was wild, as though he had just stuck his finger in a light socket. He had a knife, still dripping from its vile work in his left hand and an old-style revolver in his right.

He glanced up at me as I stepped through the door and leveled my gun at him. His eyes were wide and distant, as though he were seeing through me rather than looking straight at me. I had to fight back the urge to pull the trigger. “Security! Drop your weapons!”

He continued to rock back and forth, still looking through me and muttering to himself. I took another step closer. “Drop your weapons or I’ll open fire!”

His eyes focused on mine, as though just seeing me for the first time. His voice shook as he spoke, and the words seemed forced, as though he had to work to make them come out. “I had to release the demons.”

Before I could even register what he had said, he put the revolver to his head and pulled the trigger.

***

“Heh, looks like a painting I saw once.”

I glared daggers at the officer who was examining the splatter art the gore from the man’s head had made on the wall like it was a museum piece. “Hey, you wanna show a little fucking professionalism here?”

“Sorry, Captain.” Chastised, he went back to bagging up the evidence.

Just then Doc came through the door and instantly covered his mouth with his hands. “Oh dear God.”

I snorted as I brushed past. “I don’t think God’s here anymore, Doc.” I slapped him hard on the back. “Welcome to Hell.”

He caught back up with me a little ways down the hall and grabbed me by the shoulder, forcing me to stop. “Hey, you okay?”

I rubbed at my temples and sighed. “Well, considering I just witnessed the most fucked up thing I’ve ever even thought about seeing, yeah, I’m just peachy.”

I leaned back against the wall and allowed myself to slide down until I was sitting. Doc did the same. We sat there for a minute, not saying anything. The events of a few minutes before kept playing over in my mind and I wanted to puke. I looked over at him. “What am I supposed to do, Doc? How can I fight something that I can’t see?”

He shrugged and shook his head. “This is the worst case of rampant space sickness I’ve ever heard of, Jim. Not even the first deep space missions had this many people twitch out. I think it’s time for us to go to the Administrator and get him to turn us around and take us back to Earth.”

I chuckled. “You’re kidding, right? The only thing Starkins sees is dollar signs. We’ve already made enough discoveries since we’ve been out here to keep him in the limelight for years to come. Things are going to have to get a lot worse before we’ll convince him to give this up and return home early.”

Doc looked at me incredulously. “How much worse does it have to get? We’ve already lost twenty-three people-“

“Out of, what, ten thousand? You don’t get it. All he sees is numbers, and right now he’s going to say that’s not enough to get him to blow a multi-billion dollar mission for.”

He sighed as he cradled his head in his hands. “You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right. I’m always right.”

He looked up and slapped me on the back. “Well, in that case my friend, it is my professional opinion that we’re screwed.”

“Glad to hear it.”

***

My migraine wasn’t getting any better, so I opted to try and get some rest. Miraculously I was able to sleep as soon as I put head to pillow. Again, my dreams were a strange mix of half-heard voices and half-seen images, but they seemed vaguely familiar. Annoyingly so, like ideas or thoughts on the tip of your tongue that you just can’t quite grasp to say out loud.

When I woke up my migraine was just as bad as before, if not a bit worse. I took one of the painkillers Doc had left with me and had intended to go out looking for Raynard when Doc called and wanted me to meet with him. Ten minutes later we were back at our usual table at the Terran’s Delight. Lucky for me, we got the sugar-hyped Candy as our waitress again.

“Just coffee for me, thanks.”

Doc nodded. “The same.”

She replied in her normal uber-perky voice and turned to go get our drinks, but not before throwing me an annoyed side-glance. Apparently she was still a bit touchy from before. Doc didn’t seem to notice. In fact, Doc seemed downright agitated.

“What’s with you today?”

“There’s just something I need to talk with you about.” He gave me a weak smile as Candy set down our drinks and quickly rushed off. He took a deep breath as he began to stir his cream into his coffee. “You remember the other day, when Danny died, how I told you about my concern over some of your officers?”

I masked my concern by taking a sip of my coffee. I didn’t like where this was heading. “Yeah, and?”

“Well, I wasn’t just talking about your officers.” He put down the spoon and looked me in the eye. “To be frank, I’m worried about you Jim.”

I laughed. “Me? What are you worried about me for? Besides the obvious, of course.”

He didn’t look amused. “I’m serious. All this stress lately, the lack of sleep, the migraines, and your attitude.”

I put down my cup and folded my arms. “What’s wrong with my attitude?”

He shook his head and leaned back in his booth. “You’ve just been acting…differently. That’s all. You’re a lot more agitated, which is understandable given the circumstances, but you’ve also grown more hostile- towards your people, and especially towards civilians.” He leaned forward, concern evident in his face. “Did you know that some tech filed a complaint about you yesterday. He said you assaulted him at one of the lift tubes.”

I rolled my eyes. “The guy was an asshole! I shouted that I was security and needed the lift, but the guy ignored me and tried to beat me to it, so I shoved him out of the way.”

Doc’s expression didn’t change, which made me start to get angry. “It was a fucking emergency! What do you want from me?”

“I want you to let someone else take over handling all the shit that’s been going on lately, especially the homicides. I want you to take it easy for a while.”

I slammed my hands down on the table, spilling coffee and making a couple at the booth across from us jump. “I can’t do that! This is my job. It’s my responsibility! I can’t just hand it off-“

Doc’s voice remained calm and his eyes never left mine. “I could make it a medical order, but I don’t want it to have to come to that.”

Exasperated, I sat back and shook my head. “I don’t fucking believe this. Mutiny, and from my best friend too.”

He nodded and leaned closer. “I am your friend, which is why I’m talking to you now. You need to take it easy for a while, Jim, for your own good.”

I sighed and held up my hands. “Okay, fine, you win. There’s no need to make this a big deal. I’ll tell you what; I’ll put Larsen in charge of all the fieldwork for the next few weeks. He’s good, and I’m sure he can handle things while I ride a desk for a while. Will that suffice?”

Doc nodded and smiled at me. “Larsen is good. Look, Jim, I’m only doing this because I care and-“

I waved it away. “Yeah, yeah. I know. You’re right, I need a break. I’ll get everything together as soon as we’re done here, okay?”

After we finished our coffee I told Doc that I had some paperwork that I needed to do to get things in motion for Larsen to take over, so we said our good-byes and he went off to the infirmary. I gave him a ten count to make sure he wasn’t watching anymore, then headed off to my room to pick up my gun before going out to try and find Raynard. I knew Doc meant well, but I just couldn’t hand off my responsibilities on someone else, especially not with what I suspected about Raynard. Imagine my surprise when I found him waiting for me in my room.

“How the hell did you get in here?”

He leaned against the wall next to the vidphone and made a show of examining his fingernails. He didn’t bother to look up at me. “You lookin for me?”

I did my best to try and look calm and relaxed so I mimicked his stance and leaned against the door jam. “Why would I be looking for you?”

He looked up at me now, his face a mask of stone. “You know why.”

I swallowed the lump that was rising in my throat and shrugged. “Because the last time you decked me in the jaw? Assaulting a superior officer is a serious offense, but I decided to let it go. I tacked it down to grief over Danny’s death.”

He chuckled and shook his head. “That ain’t the reason.”

The frosty clench on my gut returned and my eyes glanced down to the couch where my gun rested in its holster. Apparently he noticed, and his smile got even bigger. “You won’t be needin that. Not that it would do you much good anyway.”

I suddenly realized I was shaking. All attempts of appearing in control were forgotten once my eyes met his. “What do you want?”

He stood up straight and stalked his way towards me. I tried to speak, but words refused to form themselves. I couldn’t move. My migraine thundered in my ears and seemed to get worse the closer Raynard got. For a second the air around him seemed to shimmer, like a mirage out in the desert, and his face seemed to contort but then went back to normal. “You still don’t get it, do you?”

The mirage effect happened again only this time it was more severe. In the place of the man I had been talking to was a hideous monster. His face was deformed and twisted, as though made of putty that some child had played with. His eyes became black mirrors, soulless and reflecting back look of pure horror on my face. He was only inches away now, his breath warm and moist against my skin. His lips peeled back into a razor-toothed grin and I felt my blood run cold. “I want control.”

Then my whole world became a black abyss.

***

I lay floating in the nothingness. Then, a sound, a faint echo, as if coming from far away. The sound gets closer, louder, more insistent.  Then I see the light. It begins as a pinpoint of white, a single star in the vast nothingness. Then the star grows brighter, closer, the sound louder, a thunderclap. Then I wake.

I groaned as I struggled to move. My eyelids felt like they had weights attached, not wanting to open. The world was a blur as I struggled to shake away the fog that seemed to shroud my mind. My vidphone was ringing, my head was pounding, and I wanted to puke. “Well, it’s nice to know I’m still alive.”

I managed to stagger drunkenly over to the vidphone and hit the receive button. Doc’s face immediately popped up on the monitor. “Jim, thank God! I’ve been trying to call you for over an hour! You better get down to the Terran’s Delight right away. There’s been another murder.”

Two painkiller tabs, a stiff drink, and ten minutes later I was back at the restaurant. The place was packed with more people than I’ve ever seen there, all of them security. I managed to stagger under the crime scene tape and make it over to where Doc was crouched over a body. It was Candy, our waitress from before.

I felt my legs turn to jelly and two sets of strong hands moved quickly to catch me and keep me upright. It was two officers I hadn’t even realized were standing there. They lowered me slowly into a chair.

“You okay, Cap?”

Doc shooed them away as he knelt down beside me and began to look me over. “Damn, Jim, you look horrible.”

“Raynard.” I had to force the word from my mouth and it came out a mumble.

Doc leaned closer. “What?”

This time the words came out in a flood and without thinking I was back on my feet. “It was Raynard! He’s the killer! He’s some sort of…alien or something. He attacked me in my room and-“

Doc gripped me by the shoulders and shook me hard. “Jim, get hold of yourself! You aren’t making any sense.”

“Raynard!” I looked at the two officers who had helped me to the chair. “Sergeant Raynard! Don’t look at me like that, you know who I’m talking about!” I returned my attention to Doc and gripped his shoulders. “Doc, it was him! The guy who decked me the other day! He was waiting for me in my room. He turned into some sort of thing and attacked me again! He’s the killer!”

Doc spoke in calm, yet firm words, like you would to a child that was complaining that the Boogieman was under the bed. “Jim, listen to me. There is no Sergeant Raynard. You’re having a delusion.”

I pushed him away and pointed to the bruise on my face. “Then how did I get this? Huh? The son of a bitch decked me after the meeting the other day!”

Doc took a cautious step towards me, hands held up defensively. “Jim, you had that bruise the morning of Danny’s murder. I meant to ask you about it but I didn’t get the chance.”

I shook my head, slowly at first, then more insistent. “No, no, no. That’s not possible.”

Doc kept making his way towards me. He gestured behind him towards the two officers, whom I noticed had their guns out of the holsters and held at their sides. “If you don’t believe me, ask them.”

One of them nodded while the other responded. “It’s true, Captain. You had it at the meeting.”

My head was throbbing and it felt like it was going to crack from the pressure. I could barely make out the words over the sound of its pulse. I felt a sudden surge of fear grip my chest as Doc nodded once more and took another step, and suddenly my gun was in my hand and leveled at his chest. “No! No, no, no, no, no, no! It was Raynard!”

Doc stopped, his hands held up. The other two officers had their guns leveled at me now, but Doc glanced back and shook his head then returned his attention to me. “Jim, I want you to listen to me. I need you to hear what I’m saying. The only Raynard on this station is you. You are Captain James Raynard Stevens. You are the head of security for the UEN Space Exploration Station Discovery. And, you are my friend. I don’t know what happened to you today. I don’t know what’s going on and I want to find out, but first I need you to put down that gun.”

As Doc’s words drifted through the haze of pain, realization dawned on me, like a light in the darkness. The pain increased in intensity, threatening to take me with it back into the abyss, but it was too late. Now I knew the truth, and suddenly it all made sense: the “space sickness”, the murders, Raynard. The man from the day before had told me, but I didn’t want to listen. The answer to it all was so simple…

I had to let the demons out.

Where does the violet tint end and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blending enter into the other. So with sanity and insanity.

-Herman Melville (1819 – 1891)

Copyright © 2009 J.R. Broadwater

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