A slight departure from today’s theme, but I thought you’d enjoy an excerpt from Parallax, Chapter 18. Have a great weekend. 🙂
Koren stifled a chuckle as he activated the hyperspace engines. Pratt counted his blessings as his body felt the stress of Space and Time twisting around him. Mercifully, the churning sensations didn’t last more than a few minutes and he managed to keep the contents of his stomach from breaking free and decorating the deck and bulkheads around him.
“I’ve set the autopilot to take us on an indirect route to my home,” Koren announced. “I would suggest that you get some rest in the meantime. Do you need assistance getting back to your quarters?”
Pratt struggled to his feet. “I think I can feel my way there by myself.” He bumped into the edge of the console and fought to keep from falling. “After a fashion.”
“Nonsense. I will help you.” Koren picked Pratt up, slung him over a shoulder, and carried him down the corridor to his quarters. After gently depositing him on the bed, he gave an unseen bow. “I will return for you when it is time to disembark.”
“You’re certainly going out of your way to help me.”
“I have few true friends, Jack,” Koren admitted. “It would go against my moral code not to render as much aid to you in your time of need. Get some rest.”
Pratt heard the door behind him close and laid back on the bed. He felt a relative sense of peace as he tried to pierce the dark shroud that kept him from seeing the ceiling.
*Man, I thought he would never leave. You didn’t buy all that sappy stuff, did you?*
“You know, I’m going to find a way to get you out of my head even if I have to dig you out with a spoon.”
*Jack, all you have to do is give in and come to us. The Signiferians will make everything all better again.*
“I’ll be damned if I let The Sigs determine my future,” Pratt said. “Now go away and let me get some rest. You’re giving me a supernova sized migraine.”
*Sorry, Jack, can’t do that.* He sensed a feathery brush against his mind that made him shiver. *You know, there are advantages to having me here. I’ll never say no to you.*
Pratt sat up. “There’s a word for what you’re suggesting and I’m not inclined to say it, even if you are a mental delusion. Stop mucking around with my mind. It’s not going to work.”
*Of course it will* Pinchot laughed. *Do you think you’re the first to have this done to them?*
“Flight 217.” Pratt sucked in a lungful of air and then expelled it. “The Sigs were grabbing people in the past. So, why me?”
*Because, Jack, of all the people they interviewed, you were the one that carried what they needed in your genetic code. In fact, you carry both pieces of a puzzle that’s eluded their science for millennia. You should feel honored.*
“Yeah, I’m swelling with pride.” Pratt retorted. “What about Pinchot? How does she fit into all this?”
*You can’t expect all the answers all at once.* Pinchot admonished him. *Come to us and all will be revealed.*
“Not a chance.” Pratt laid back down and rolled to his right side. “I’m getting some sleep.”
Koren clicked off the intercom and sat back in his chair. He had no reason to doubt Pratt’s sanity, but he wondered if the new affliction was going to be a problem. I need him to help me make my case with The Hegemon, he thought, as he busied himself with monitoring the ship systems and the long range scanners. The screens were mostly clear of traffic, but it took his mind off of what lay ahead. There were more questions than answers that even an Oracle couldn’t divine to his satisfaction. Pratt was impetuous and somewhat reckless, but he had an admirable ability to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat. That made him valuable.
He stood away from his console and stretched before performing an old set of martial arts exercises designed to maintain his flexibility and agility. Learned as a youngling, he could do them in his sleep but the movements allowed him to focus on something other than devising contingencies for a battle that did not yet occur. Several repetitions later did nothing to ease his mind, so he took up Pratt’s habit of pacing while staring out the forward windows.
The most prudent move is to avoid confrontation and work passively to effect change, he thought. Mentally, he dismissed the option because it made his scales crawl and his tail twitch. No, I must fight for what I feel is the correct action. The consequences were great, but the threat that lay out beyond the stars loomed greater than mere political strife. Even his own life paled by comparison to the billions of lives that were threatened by the invaders. His decisions weighed heavily upon him as he watched Space move past the windows. His cloak flapped around his boots as he paced, his mind a turmoil of conflicting thoughts. Why can’t I see the answer? He thought to himself. It was maddening that he couldn’t calculate the variables he needed to know to make an informed decision. I guess Jack would just ‘wing it’, he thought with no small sense of amusement.
He stopped, pondering his last thought. Of course, it was so simple that he hardly believed that he didn’t realize it before. He went back to his console and accessed the system data network. Hiding his system access under a royal privilege code, he began reading. An hour later, he found his answers and went to his own medical kit and began mixing.
Pratt tossed and turned in his bed as he tried desperately to tune out Pinchot’s incessant rambling in his head. Burying his head under a makeshift pillow did little to muffle her, but at least it gave him the illusion that he was fighting back. He heard the door lock tumblers click over and it opened. He sat up to hear footsteps enter the room.
“Koren, I really hope that’s you.”
“My apologies for disturbing you at such a late hour, Jack.” Koren bowed. “I have something that may restore your sight, but it is risky and may do more harm than good. May I proceed?”
“I thought you were hesitant to try anything else until we met with your healers?”
“That is true, but I have an obligation to try and fix what I have done to you.” Koren said. “I have researched a possible treatment based on similar conditions among my own people. I have also familiarized myself further with your anatomy and physiology. First, I must scan you.”
“Well, I don’t think I could get more worried and aggravated than I already am.” Pratt replied. “Go ahead.”
Koren pulled up a chair next to the bed and waved a medical scanner over Pratt’s head. He muttered to himself as he studied the readings. The scan lasted several seconds before it beeped a conclusion. “I have both good news and bad.”
“That old chestnut.” Pratt tried to sound cheery, but his fatigue wore on his voice. “Whatever you want to start with is fine to me. Just shut this crazy bitch up.”
Koren ignored the expletive. “There is a device implanted in an area near your Optic Nerve. It was very cleverly disguised to mimic the surrounding tissue and fool your immune system. I couldn’t begin to try to remove it, but I have a chemical compound that will target the device and cover it with an organic barrier. It will not deactivate the device, merely block it from interfering with your life processes. If this is successful, you will need to administer regular dosages over time without fail. Can you do this?”
Pratt reached out with a hand. “Just give me the injector. We’ll worry about the Dice and Slice later. I need sleep and I hate the idea that The Signiferians could pounce on us at any moment.”
Koren gently placed a mushroom shaped injector into his hand. “Place the bulb part against your skin and press the base. The device has been calibrated to inject a precise amount of the compound into your system and will create a limited supply for the future. It has a limited data storage capability in which I have stored a translated Terran formula and the location of the device. Each injection will last approximately 24 hours at a time. I cannot stress it enough that you must either have the device removed or not miss an injection. Do you understand?”
“Yes, yes.” Pratt insisted. “The last thing I want to do is forget and have to hear Pinchot in my head. The past few hours have been enough for several lifetimes. What about my vision?”
“I am hoping that my formula correction will remedy that,” Koren said. “Without a laboratory to run tests, I can only rely on Hope.”
Pratt placed the injector against his neck. Part of him flinched from the feel of the injector tip. “Ugh, this thing is moist. What is it made of? To be honest, I’m getting a mental picture of something that is really creeping me out.”
“It is made of an organic material modeled after an organ possessed by a creature on my world.” Koren said. “Try not to think about it too much.”
“You modeled a medical injector after a reproductive organ, didn’t you?”
Koren shrugged unseen. “Can you think of a better delivery system?”
“Yes, quite a few.” Pratt squeezed the injector’s base and fought the urge to cringe as it injected fluid through his skin. “I must make a mental note to do this in private. Mushroom stamps against my neck will not make me popular back home.” The fluid’s effect was an immediate tingling behind his eyes and a burning sensation across his scalp. He dropped the injector and gripped his head, squeezing his eyes shut from the pain. “God, it’s worse than last time. Is it supposed to be doing this?”
“I have no basis for comparison.” Koren replied. “How do you feel?”
Pratt scrambled to his feet, still gripping his head. “Every nerve ending in my skull is on fire.” He wobbled to the door and leaned against it. “Good God, I’ve never felt a pain like this before.” He doubled over, his head hitting the bulkhead metal and his stomach making overtures to violent retching. Eventually his legs failed to support him and he dropped to his knees. He choked back a scream as his entire body began to convulse. He heard Koren approach and held up a hand. “No, don’t come too close.”
“Jack, I did not anticipate this reaction.”
Pratt waved him back. “Just stay back. Oh Jesus.” He doubled over as a wave of stomach cramps fought their way through his body. Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself up and began pounding in time with the pain. An eternity passed before the pain retreated to his fists and he was able to wipe away suppressed tears. He blinked. He blinked again.
“Koren, has this wall always been gray?”
“Yes. We Locknar prefer function over aesthetics in our ships.” Koren stopped. “Jack, can you see?”
Pratt broke into a big grin. “Hot Damn, I can see again but that stuff is pretty potent. Any side effects that I should be aware of?”
“I don’t know.” Koren waved the medical scanner over him. “I can sense the organic barrier in place and your immune system seems to be ignoring it. Can you still hear her?”
Pratt stopped and listened inward. After a few moments, he shook his head. “Not a peep, but I’ve learned to expect the calm before the storm. You say these injections last for 24 hours?”
Koren nodded. “You must not fail to take them or the barrier will erode and you will have to start over again with the same effects as you just felt. Do you understand?”
“More than you realize.” Pratt replied, peering around the room at everything he could lay his eyes on. “If pressing a dick against my neck keeps Pinchot away, I’m all for it.”
“Never mind. It’s a rude slang term among my people for a male reproductive organ.”
“Just when I think I have your people understood.” Koren shook his head in confusion. “You introduce a new topic for study.”
Pratt clapped him on the back. “Don’t sweat it, Pal. I’ve been human all my life and I still have trouble with it.” He yawned. “I guess the adrenaline’s wearing off.”
“I will leave you to rest. Notify me if you need my assistance. I will call you when we are near my planet. I suggest that we still see my healers.”
“Agreed.” Pratt said, sitting back on the bed and stifling a longer yawn. “A lot of work ahead.”
“Indeed.” Koren stepped out of the room and closed the door. As he walked back to the cockpit, he shook his head. “Terrans.”