Wednesday, May 28, 2014

100-Word Story: I Wish I could See Them With Their Eyes Open

Coming home after working a twelve hour shift five days a week gives me a sense of pride, but does not leave me a lot of time with my family. I get home and my wife and son are already asleep. Sometimes I don't see them for days or even weeks at a time. Just once, I want to get home to read my son a bedtime story or fall asleep with my wife. I keep the family afloat, but at what cost? I lay down and think to myself: I wish I could see them with their eyes open.

Click here for the prompt.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fiction Inspired By "Star Trek":Staring Into Space, Or How To Make A Starship Crew Seem Human

I had a spark of inspiration thanks to Star Trek. Please support the official release and enjoy!

I could spend hours looking out this window. Who knows, maybe I already have. When zooming through space so far away from my home planet, I tend to get lost in thought, just staring at the infinite vacuum of space. Since I was a boy, I have been told of the universe’s infinite wonders, but all I see right now is an empty black void with little specks of white light scattered about. Seeing all of that is just what I need to make my mind wander.

As I start to let my mind wander, I think back to the history of human interstellar travel, starting with when we discovered warp technology. It was originally thought to be a kind of pipe dream, until one man discovered and tested the technology by blasting himself off into space. This caught the eye of some “advanced” species that basically just congratulated us and left, only to come back and try to regulate our technological progress. Little did they know that humans don’t really like being told what to do.
Once we were on our feet technologically speaking, the same species tried to “assert themselves” by establishing an embassy on Earth. This was thirty-five years ago, and they still haven’t left. There are those who oppose this action, but as far as I’m concerned, they can do whatever they want as long as they do not hinder my ability to explore the galaxy. My crew and I have been itching to get out and explore the universe for ourselves, and we don’t care what “they” think about it.

I don’t personally have any disdain for our visitors and they haven’t done anything to me to hinder any personal or intellectual growth. I was able to learn from and work with some of the most brilliant minds of my time. In all of that time, there is one thing that sticks out in my mind: interstellar travel is really, really hard. As if moving space around a vessel to make it travel faster than light can be easy. That said, I really have to hand it to the physicists and engineers involved in this great undertaking. They make everything work. I’m just the guy making decisions. Decisions can be changed more easily than technological marvels like this ship I’m captain of. Again, thanks guys! You do a great job.

I turn away from the window finally to exit my quarters. I walk down the hallway to see how everyone is doing. It’s natural to get cabin fever as we enter our fourth month away from home. Some take it better than others. My communications officer is ecstatic to study non-terrestrial languages; so naturally, she’s in a really good frame of mind. She keeps to her work, however. I would really like her to socialize a little bit more, but she does her job and does it well, so who am I to complain about her methods.

The chief of engineering is pleasant to be around, but he is a young, egotistical hot-shot and all but married his work. So much so, that I can’t really understand a word he says when he starts going off on his technical rants about how much more advanced the ship would be if they had let him build it. His team seems to respect him due to his expertise, but there is only so far professional courtesy can take a person. I bet it gets annoying for his team to hear how great he is. I hope he strikes a good balance with his team at some point.

The ship’s physician is a nice, elderly gentleman, but a little out there. He seems really optimistic, which is kind of the opposite of what he’s seen on his table throughout his career. This is a man who has seen the effects of wars, epidemics, famines, incurable diseases and everything in between. Yet, despite all of that, he is able to keep a smile on his face; even in the presence of formidable adversity. I kind of envy that about him, and as I watch him work, I try to imagine what his life was like up to this point, as if I could do it justice. I get the feeling he has a lot of stories to tell, and one day I would like to hear some of them. Once I summon the courage to ask him about it.

Approaching the bridge, I see a young ensign pacing back and forth in a nervous way. Upon asking him what was wrong, he told me about mistakes he had made the previous day while on duty. I reassure him; everybody makes mistakes. I became the captain of this vessel because I learned how to handle my mistakes. It’s still early in this young man’s career as an explorer on a starship, so I wasn't worried about how he would turn out. The fact that he was scared means that he knows when to draw the line, but the trick is to not let it get to him. After our chat, he seemed relieved. We exchanged pleasantries and he walked away with much less nervousness in his step. This is the kind of thing that helps make being a captain worth it: seeing growth and confidence in my crew.

At the bridge, my second-in-command was taking control. Being at this for as long as she has makes her very capable. However, she has a hatred for the “visitors” on Earth. She doesn't like to talk about it, so she buries herself in her work. I’ve tried to ease her mind about them, but it doesn't seem like the thought really takes form in her mind. Nonetheless, she is a great officer, and I know I can trust her, so her personal issues don’t concern me when it comes to the job.

Now it’s time to stare out the big window. This time, I have people to share it with.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Flash Fiction: Must Contain This Sentence...

I'm not sure what it is about nights like tonight, but I can feel that this is going to be a bad one. It seems to be the only thing shrinks can expect from working at an asylum, or "mental health rehabilitation facility." The board makes us call it that as if folks don't actually know what it's really all about: making crazy people not crazy. That's what we like to think, anyway. Sadly, many of the "residents" of this place are lifers. Never again to see the light of day. I'd go crazy just looking at those padded walls, especially since I got called in at 2:00 am to talk to a patient in solitary confinement.

As I enter the building, I begin to ponder what might have happened. Did someone get hurt? How many were involved? Is extra intervention necessary to deal with this problem? Will this take all night? I would much rather be sleeping at home and deal with this during my office hours later, but there's always that intern who pulled a double shift and is looking for an excuse to bring me in for a consult, or the on-call resident that thinks every interaction with a patient holds significant information on how to treat them. In my experience, both of these people exist simply to annoy their colleagues and kiss the asses of the grant committee to get more funding for some long-shot research project that won't deliver any promising medical results. Nonetheless, when the horn sounds, I come running. I am a doctor, after all.

Walking down the hall in solitary confinement is like some of the patients; some of the windows are lit but nobody's home. I know that sounds jaded, but in some cases it holds true to the state at which some of the patients are in. Some are incurable, which makes them dangerous. The best we can do is give them their own space and one-on-one therapy so they don't hurt anyone. Used to break my heart to do this to them, but now it's common practice. I look through one window to see a patient writing on the wall of his room, where all I can make out is "the criminal disappears after the inventor." Seems pretty vague and screwy to me. Maybe a retelling of some demented dream brought on by psychotic delusions, or even the start of an event that put him in here. It's all the same at 2:00 am, but I need to focus on the reason I'm here, and not get distracted by every patient that writes stuff on the walls. Get in, deal with the problem, get out.

As I reach the end of the hall, I hear an intern talking to one of the security patrol personnel, also known as "the guards." When the intern saw me, he broke away quickly to walk with me and talk. He tells me that one of the patients started making enough noise to cause some other restless patients to wake up from deep sleep. Crazy people don't like having their sleep disturbed either. What are the odds?

We walk to the room where the offending patient is located, who is making no noise at this point. If it weren't for multiple eye witnesses, I think I would go right home. Sadly, that is not correct etiquette, which is dictated by hospital protocol written by the people who sign our paychecks and nothing more. As I look in at the patient, I notice nothing immediately out of the ordinary. The lights were on, but the patient seemed to be asleep. I prescribe a mild sedative in case he wakes up again and begin to walk away. I can't believe I got called in for something so trivial. Such is the cross us attending physicians must bear, I suppose. I walk back and my eye is drawn to the patient from earlier, writing on the wall. The same sentence over and over like a mantra. I've seen something like this many times over and want to intervene and get to the bottom of it, but I just don't have the energy. I am sorry for what happened to you, but I cannot help you right now, pal.

Pulling into my driveway, I start to think back to the patient's room. It was surprisingly clean compared to others. Cleaner than any of those rooms should be. Considering the company that is kept in that wing, details like that tend to stand out. It may just be nothing, but I call the intern again and order him to check in on the offending patient and call me back. The call doesn't come.

Driving up to the office, I see lots of yellow police tape and cruisers in the parking lot. My stomach drops, wondering if this had anything to do with the intern not calling me back last night. Making my way through the mess of cops and asylum personnel, I eventually reach the scene that is causing the commotion. Fearing the worst, I peer through the doorway of the room I checked in on last night. It was no longer clean.

The white floors now run crimson with the blood of the intern, whose throat, wrists and ankles are slashed. I can't do anything else but look away out of shame. I make my way outside and fall to my knees, trying to come to grips with sending a young doctor to their death. For some reason, my mind goes back to the patient writing on the wall, and my attitude toward him. I think to myself that if I had taken more time to help people like him when I see the problem, something like this can be avoided. I thought I've stopped blaming myself for those things a long time ago, but I guess I haven't yet.

My head in my hands feels heavy from regret. I can't take it anymore. I hate crazy people.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Flash Fiction - We're all human, even when we're not

Yeah, I remember that smell...

Some people must think that after being part of a covert ops clean-up crew for over 15 years, something like that wouldn't bother us. I take it one step further, and say that it's something that I expect to smell every day on the job. The smell of bleach and burning remains is not a hard smell to recognize, but after a while I started to wake up to that smell as if I were waiting for my morning coffee. That's not the thing that scares us, not by a long shot. The thing that scares me the most is the fact that we can't live without it. An interesting, yet awful, paradox: we hate it, but we can't live without it. I look around at my crew and I know we're all thinking the same thing as we prepare to clean up the mess left behind by the field agents and arms dealers that were here an hour ago.

This is no easy gig, that's for sure. When my crew and I get back to headquarters, we get our commendations and walk away to wait for the next job. Even though the field agents get all the credit for the mission being successfully executed, my crew and I are the people that make sure that fuel isn't added to the fire of an already international incident. Since we use kerosene and gasoline to dispose of what remains of the mission, the irony of which is not lost on me.

Once at home, I try to relax while remembering the "horrific things" I had seen earlier on. I've been in the business for a while, and I'm not surprised by much anymore. The only thing that really gets to me when I'm at home is the fact that I'm home. My apartment doesn't really have much in the way of decoration, no family pictures because I don't have one, a single couch, and my job posting system, also known as my television. As I turn on the news, I can tell which catastrophic event my crew and I will be cleaning up next. Even though I try not to think about it too much, I can't help but relive the day's events when I'm at home. I know it's sick, but even though I've done some really awful things under the guise of "preserving national security," it's hard for me not to take pride in this work. Not something I can casually bring up in conversation... thus, adding to the things about this life that I don't like.

I especially don't like the late hours of this job. One phone call at 2:00am, and an hour later my crew and I are on a plane to God knows where just to make sure that the ramifications of the operation are taken care of. Thank God that the gear is already sent to the location where we will be, otherwise that would look pretty suspicious getting on an airplane. I can just imagine the conversation that I would have with the air marshal: air marshal accuses me of something that I can only assume equates to acts of terrorism in his mind, I lie, he doesn't believe me, I lie again, he gets irritated, cuffs me, drags me to the security office, and I wait patiently until someone who outranks him and has clearance to know of my business releases me. All that time passes, and at that point, an international incident doesn't erupt because another team swoops in and takes the lead on the clean-up. Son of a bitch just keeps me from getting paid. He doesn't actually influence the outcome of the story. It's just the way my profession works. After that, I would just go back home and wait for the next call, and the next time, the plane will take off with me and my crew on it.

After the airport, I go home to splash water on my face and look in the mirror at the man that I've become. After all I've seen, learned, and done I don't remember the man that I was before this life. All of the experience doesn't amount to much other than the fact that I can do my job without flinching or furrowing my brow. The weird thing is, I can't live without this life. I wouldn't have it any other way. There is a part of me that enjoys the clean-up, and it's that part of me that frightens me the most. A part that loves the smell of bleach and burning remains, and takes some kind of sick pleasure at what all of it means. We're made to believe that all of what we do is to keep political fires from burning out of control when the team that is in the middle of the action is holding the match, intending to do just that. I think the only solace that some get is the fact that they get paid at the end of the week, no questions asked.

It's an odd frame of mind to be in; when I know something is wrong, but I'm getting paid to do it in the name of what is defined by the higher-ups as "justice." It makes me think "what would other people do if they've seen the things that I've seen or done the things that I've done?" Those questions bother me because this job can create monsters... or maybe that was the intention all along. Either way, remind me to thank Uncle Sam for everything I've been a part of.

You know, you've been awfully quiet throughout my little ramble, doc. Got something on your mind?