part 7


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When Zoey's injectable cocktail wears off I can move again. Zoey says I don't have to relive it.

Look at something long enough, it becomes meaningless. Vanishes. My whole life, like focusing on smoke. If I repeat it, it will go away. It's why ghosts doom themselves to endless repetition. They can't get away so they dissolve in repetition.

"Greg. You don't have to..."

I think they've taken the cast off my arm and the splints off my leg. My face is healed. Or none of it's happened yet. I don't remember and I've got one thing to do. McAllister's got to put one of us on third rotation. Jana or me. If I'm sixteen hours shifted, I'll never see her. My body clock will adjust to the permanent darkness. My breakfast will be her midnight snack. There'll be a different herc home and a nice warm divorce waiting back in the world.

McAllister has a radio on his desk in the station manager's office. Green metal cover's open. Test leads from meters and oscilloscopes stuck inside haphazardly.

"Could you give me a hand with this?" he asks.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Goddamned hacker mucked around with the environmentals. Nearly got all the generators shut down before we caught him. NSF cut the comms so we're down to shortwave but the power's still out in the comms shack and this screwed up master control system needs a password to reboot. I found this thing down in the heavy shop. Ryan tells me it still works."

"You don't know the password and you're going to use an old CW rig to ask someone back in town for it?" I say. This man would walk uphill both ways to work if he could.

"I'm going to signal Martin. He knows the setup. You got a better idea?"

"Yeah, ask me. I configured the bastard."

"Oh."

"Yeah, oh. And the comms shack is on a different breaker. It's behind medical for some reason only the geniuses who built the place know. It'll come on, on the spare. On a frigging inverter and battery backup. It's wired that way on purpose exactly for this reason, so we don't lose touch with civilization just because the mains go down. I thought you knew this. What's with you?"

"I could ask you the same thing," McAllister said. "You want to talk about it?"

"No," I tell him. Why talk? Everyone on station knows everything. I'm news. I'm entertainment. "I want you to put me on third shift."

"You know I can't do that. You need to be active during primary hours."

"Then put Jana on third shift. And get her out of my room. Have her move in with Jim or give her one of the empties."

"You know, you're not going to want to hear what I have to say about this..." he started. And he was right. I hadn't asked him on purpose.

"Look, I don't give a shit what's going on between you and your wife. I really don't care what's making her decide to go off and sleep with someone else. There are a lot of unusual stresses a pole winterover brings to a person. It's why we don't recommend relationships on station."

"Oh, what are we supposed to do? Pretend all these other people don't exist?"

"Don't create problems on station."

"Will you just shut the fuck up?"

"I'm responsible for the safety of the community at this station. And right now, you're screwing up."

Now I'm mad. Had to press that button. "ME? It's ME?"

"Dude. Get a grip," he says.

"Don't 'dude' me. You're supposed to be the goddamned station manager and you don't even know the password to the system that runs our buildings. You don't even know how the radios work. Who the hell are you to tell me--"

Ryan bursts in. "They're in trouble outside."

McAllister: "Who the hell is outside?"

"Jana and Jim went out to replace the satcom transponder. It was due to be swapped. She's on the tower."

That's my job.

McAllister says, "Who gave permission? It's condition one."

"Satcom is coming up and you needed the password and we couldn't find HIM." Ryan points to me.

McAllister's log book is on his desk and I write the system password in huge letters on the top of a blank page.

"You bring the system up. I'll go help them," I say. It's my job. He knows it. He'll just make things worse out there.

On the way down the beer can I'm asking Ryan, "Tell me they know how to do this. You taught one of them how to climb." and I'm pulling on my ECWs. There's a safety harness back in the comms office. No sense going back for it. She would have it.

He says he thought I taught Jana.

Goddamn it. She's seen me do it twenty times. Beleyed for me. But she never climbed herself.

Ryan pauses for a second at the door and now I hear it. Feel it. It's human nature. Nobody would pull open a door and walk into that.

Wind rumbles in low thumps like an advancing army. So low and deep, it seems there are giants outside. The whole damned building is shaking.

"What's the temp?"

"Eighty. Does it matter?"

"In a hundred mile an hour wind? Nah. Can't get to absolute zero."

"You ready?" he asks me.

"Go."

Even through seven layers of clothing--hats and balaclavas--three pair of gloves--we're exposed. I can't breathe in this. It's like being underwater and the water hurts like knives. Can't stand still. Can't keep my footing. Rolling with the waves.

We stagger by leaning into the wind and pushing. Crouching low on the windward steps so we're not pushed over, moving between the light cones of the building spots, islands in a black hurricane.

At the comms tower I don't see them. Where the hell? Goggles are fogging. I don't dare try to clear them. Four seconds and skin freezes solid, third degree.

Ryan hits my arm to get my attention and bolts into the darkness. The square patch on his parka back reflects silver. I watch it stop, and move downward. I follow it.

He's pulling something from the ice. Half buried in a drift.

It's Jim. Next to him, something small and heavy. A tangle of frozen rope.

Press my face to Ryan's parka hood--"Can you get him inside?" We free him from the drift. Ryan drags Jim by the arms and signals he can, but why aren't I coming.

I point up. He doesn't get it. I make him go.

The wind tears into my clothing, sharp darkness. Vicious cold.

I try to radio them inside but I can't hear the reply so I pray they can hear me.

"Jim's hurt. I think he got hit by the transponder." It fell or she dropped it on the poor bastard.

No answer. Or if they did, it's drowned in this.

Taking up the slack on the beley rope, I don't even want to look. I know it's out of its pulley. I know. Why am I even going to bother? Wasting time thinking. Climbing.

The metal tower rungs drag the heat from my hands. Even through two pairs of glove liners and fur backed mittens. It hurts to hold on.

I feel her before I see her. Make sure of my footing. Wrap one arm around her. Face to her parka hood.

"How's it going, honey?"

Nothing. Then I hear the sound. Like whimpering. If only I could see in this mess. Downward is a malstrom of white wind like rapids on the strong river below the dam. Can't see the ground. No station. We may as well be on a rock wall against nowhere.

I think she's talking. I try to get my ear close to her mouth.

"Couldn't shut the door."

What door? Fuck. The satcom antenna. The rear door is open. New transponder is inside but the wind has blown so much ice into it, it won't shut.

"We're going down now. Come on."

"Can't."

"Yes you can."

A gust of wind forces itself between my body and the tower and tries to pull me off. But I'm on. Not today. I don't die today.

"I can't..."

"Yes you can. Look at me. Just like Yosemite. Remember?"

"...feel my hands."

And I look at her hands. And her mittens are gone. Just thin glove liners.

"I couldn't get the door closed."

"We're going to get you down from here," I say. Mind spinning. Are her hands frozen to the tower rungs? Will they have to be amptutated?

"...with my mittens on. They're lost."

"What? Honey. Don't worry, I'll get you off here. Just look at me. In my eyes. Look here. I won't let you fall."

"I couldn't get the door closed with my mittens..."

And I decide how to get off the tower is to carry her. I don't know why I don't wait for help. So what I do.

So what I did.

I reach around and unclip her safety harness. Because I couldn't get her down, otherwise.

And I forget I don't have on mine. The wind forces itself. The ice pushes me holding her.

One step, and everything stops. The wind. The cold. The dark. Time.

It's okay if we fall, the rope will catch us.

There's only the pain that belongs to me.

And the sound.

I do not want to live. Please don't help me.

Don't save me.

I do not want to remember that ever and I can't get it out of me. It echoes in my skull, a parasitic heartbeat.

The deep thunder of the advancing armies. The dark masses of ghosts and spiders.

The sound of something precious breaking.




previous episode: the look in her eyes
next episode: figment
first episode: stendec

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