by Dave Weaver
I looked up at Markham as he stood before me, stocky frame half leaning against the corner of my desk as he moved bits and pieces of office ephemera around on it. He picked up the picture of my daughter Helene and turned it round to look at it. I felt the same sense of implied threat about the man that I always did; although his voice would have sounded soft and perfectly reasonable to a stranger's ears, I could hear the menace in it.
"Really doctor, it is part of your remit. I can't see what you're complaining about. We're paying you good money to look after the staffs' physical and mental well-being."
"As I said to the Chairman, Mr Markham, I don't feel qualified to treat this man. Even after a cursory examination I can tell he's had a complete psychotic breakdown. He belongs in a hospital for long-term treatment and evaluation. I can't do much for him here."
"Of course, doctor, and the company will be taking care of all that. But first we need to find out what happened to him, why he went crazy like that. As Head of Security it's my job to find answers."
"Crazy's a rather pejorative term, don't you think?" I asked him.
"Cut the crap, doctor. He shot out of that room like a man possessed. Next minute he's in sick bay slashing at his wrists with a scalpel, howling like a dog. It wasn't a pretty sight. It took five men to sedate him. I want to know why he suddenly flipped and I want to know fast. I have to file a credible accident report within three days or we could lose our safety license and with that our insurance coverage. We'd have to close down the plant and I won't let that happen, understand?"
"You can't rush these things, Markham!" The man was beginning to anger me. He obviously didn't give a shit about Roger's condition; it was all about money and nothing else.
He looked at me steadily. "You've got three days, doctor. Use them wisely."
"Where would you like us to begin, Eric?" I asked.
Payne lay prone on the couch in my surgery. I'd given his self-inflicted wounds a fresh dressing after cleaning them as thoroughly as I could with the limited resources available.
Primus Disposal was at best a middleweight company compared to the world's giants in the rapidly growing field of nuclear waste matter transference, an extremely lucrative off-shoot of the failed matter transference tests of the late 2040's that saw the dream of human teleportation come to a sticky end. 'Fear one moment, gone the next' was our motto. We dematerialized our little bundles of spent nuclear fuel rods from our lead lined bunker and popped them back into existence somewhere on the outer rim of Jupiter's undeniable gravitational pull; the ultimate waste disposal furnace. Capitalized just enough to provide the basic equipment for the job, there was little to spare for such frills as medical back-up at Primus. Stuck out in the Mojave dessert in the centre of a two hundred mile 'cock-up' zone, they'd only had to pass basic safety procedures to gain their license.
I wasn't particularly convinced about those either, but Recovering alcoholics can't afford to be too choosy.
My patient just lay there staring up at the ceiling so I repeated the question.
"Begin what, doc? Nothing wrong with me."
"You tried to slash your wrists, Eric. You attacked the nurse when she attempted to prevent you. You could easily have died from blood loss and shock. That's not nothing."
"Yeah?" He turned his head to focus on me.
He was a large guy with an ex-sportsman's body run to middle-age soft but with a ripple of still powerful muscle beneath. I wouldn't have wanted to tangle with him and guiltily gave silent thanks I'd been in another part of the complex when he'd crashed through into sick-bay. My nurse was still recovering although he'd done nothing more than slap her away a couple of times. He didn't seem like a typical violent psychotic and I could find no history of mental instability.
Nevertheless, here he was.
"Don't you remember your actions? It was only last night."
"Doc, I woke up this morning in the company lock-up. They told me I'd gone ape, that I'd attacked a nurse and other shit. I must have tied one on at the Black Hole (the company bar) but I don't remember. What can I tell you? Is the girl alright?"
"She's doing ok."
He looked relieved. "I'm no saint, but I don't hit women..."
"Eric?" His eyes had glazed over for a moment. Something in his face changed, as if a half-memory had just tracked its way across his mind before he could grab hold. His eyes widened.
"Eric? You ok?"
He shook his head like a dog trying to lose a wasp. "Fine doc, I'm just fine. Look, the company will dock the damages from my wage packet. I'm sorry for all the shit I put you guys through, if you'll just sign me off I'll get back to my shift now."
"The company have suspended you Eric -- on full pay." I added as he raised his hands in protest.
"They want to me to get to the bottom of all this. Want us to, I should say. Help me, ok?"
He looked up at me and for a second I saw real unfathomable fear then his expression relaxed.
"Guess you're the doc, doc."
I gave him what I hoped was a reassuring smile. "Guess I am."
The sessions with Eric weren't going well. This was our third one, it was the afternoon of the day before Markham's deadline and I'd got virtually nowhere. The man himself had lost his cool detachment by now and was actually beginning to threaten me with dismissal or worse if I failed to come up with anything more concrete.
Regarding getting to the core of my patient's psyche I'd got fuck-all. Regarding discovery of what had made him flip, 'undergo an intense episode of psychotic self-hatred and physical mutilation' as I'd written up in my case notes but it still meant flip, I'd got fuck-all minus. I know that's not exactly a technical term but it just about summed up our progress.
What I did get from him was a bucket-load of survivor guilt, a classic case of blaming himself for something he'd done in the past that had reflected badly on the lives of others. He gave himself away with sudden switches in his attitude towards me, one moment helpful and agreeable, the next hostile and accusative, telling me to 'fuck off, you overpaid quack, go to hell, you'll never understand what's it like to be me..."
I'd ask him what he meant and there'd be more swearing but the anger would be turned into vicious self-loathing crossed with hatred for everyone and everything in the world. I even tried hypnosis (I'd taken a course in my sober days) but the reaction to my probing became so violent that I had to stop.
I needed a new drug I'd read about coming on the market recently, something that would keep him deep enough for me to control him and still maintain, even amplify, the lucidity of his thoughts.
I told Markham what I wanted and he somehow got it delivered to our outpost six hours later. Now I was ready to try my last shot.
"I'm going to give you a little something to help both of us, Eric." I said as I showed him the syringe.
"I won't lie to you, the tests done on this procedure have so far proved inconclusive and it has yet to receive a full safety clearance."
"In other words, it's dodgy."
I nodded, not meeting his eyes.
He looked up at the ceiling again, his favorite stance in our sessions. "Pump it in, Doc. You know I'm starting to feel like I'm kinda dead anyway so..." His words drifted off into drowsiness as he went under.
"Eric? Eric, we've found you've got the clap." That's a little test I like to do, works a helluva lot better than counting down from ten.
Nothing. OK, here we go then. "Eric, can you hear my voice?"
"Doc?" Voice slurred but attentive. Good.
"Eric, I want to take you back to Tuesday night, two nights ago. You're in the disposal bay with Brad Thompson and Johnny Milwarski. Consignment..." I looked at my notes. "...X487B is ready for shipment. It's 9.34 pm. All systems are on-line and ready to go. You've..." I studied the notes again hurriedly -- I still couldn't get my head around all this technical crap, "...'charged the particles with electromagnetic impulses' and 'centered the field dynamics'," (whatever that meant). "You're ready to send."
He took a moment then in a faint but steady voice, "I am ready to send. Check."
"Take me through what happens next, Eric." I mentally crossed my fingers.
"Hold it!" His mouth opened as if he was shouting the words but just a small sound came out.
"What's wrong, Eric?" My voice.
"I got an arc. Power down, Brad. Let's re-procedure, guys."
He was silent for a few seconds then spoke again. "No we can't do that. Because it's illegal and because we were damn lucky to get away with it the first time."
"Yeah, well fuck your pool tournament."
OK, OK, for Christ's sake give me a break! But I gotta take a reading first. No, with the handheld. Because we only go if it's low. Yeah, I do know I'm a fucking poet."
"I'm walking over now, OK?"
"It's way too high guys. I guess you're just gonna have to... what was -- It's arcing again, man... I don't like the look of this fuck...AAAAAAGH!"
He shot bolt upright, both hands covering his face as if against some kind of intense heat, and continued to scream at the top of his lungs until I pushed the tranquliser needle into his arm and gave him a dose big enough to fell a horse. As he lay down again and began to slip into unconsciousness a hand suddenly shot up to grab my arm. With an intense effort he pulled himself up until his mouth was against my ear.
His words were the merest whisper. "I am the killer of worlds, doc, the killer of worlds..."
"There was no explosion." Markham's voice was steady but his eyes dared me to challenge him.
"But everything points to one. He saw something, felt something for Christ's sake! He went somewhere terrible..."
"Well the other two guys didn't notice a thing. One moment he's standing at the entrance to the bunker, the next he's running around like a crazy man. Have you seen any burns on the man, any sign of physical damage apart from that trick with the scalpel and a few bruises the guards dolled out when they held him down?"
"Well, then. I'll be expecting your report to conclude that he developed psychosis through job related stress and to recommend that he be retired from the company. We'll give him a full redundancy package." Markham turned to leave.
"Rogers told me it arced."
He paused. "That's not what the official report of the incident will say."
"What do Thompson and Milwarski say?"
"They'll be leaving too. We'll have a new back-up crew ready to start on Monday."
He turned back to me and gave me that cold smile he kept for those who should shut up before they say too much. "It's all under control, Doctor. You've done a good job. Thank you for your persistence in the matter."
"What happens when it arcs? What's the big secret? You can tell me, Markham. I probably won't have a clue what you're on about anyway."
He gave me a shrewd look then closed the door with the tip of his shoe. "There's a theory that if the electromagnetic wave is compromised, if it 'arcs' for instance, it can duplicate itself in the same spacetime leading to a... 'reaction'."
"Universal laws make that impossible," he continued as if he hadn't heard me, "so inflation takes place, just as it did when the universe originally began."
"And what the hell's 'inflation'?"
"A parallel, doctor. It creates a parallel." He saw my jaw drop and smiled again, this time almost apologetically. "It's just a theory, doctor, and I'm just a humble security man. I wouldn't know the detail of such things. Maybe you should ask our friend Eric -- the one who survived, that is. And doctor, if you mention this conversation to anyone outside this room..." Markham glanced across at Helene's picture on my desk then back at me. "Well, I think we understand each other."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Markham."
He nodded and left.
I filed my report and went back to the daily round of bar-brawl cuts and bruises, 'work-related injuries' and general treatment for stress, impotence and depression that is the company doctor's lot.
Rogers didn't come and say goodbye and I never saw him again. I often thought about his last words to me though.
Killer of worlds...
That's one helluva lot of survivor guilt.
© 2009 Dave Weaver
Bio: Dave Weaver is a graphic designer living in St Albans. He is a member of the Verulam Writer's Circle. Dave's 'Finding Uncle' short story was published in Hert's University's 'Visions' anthology. His most recent Aphelion appearance was Outpost, October 2009.
E-mail: Dave Weaver
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