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A-to-Z Challenge — Letter D

April 5, 2015

Damages
Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.

Incoming call.

The intercom woke Rourke out of a fitful sleep. He turned over in the bed, rubbing his eyes. He looked at the clock on the wall: 3:21 am. What could be so pressing at that ungodly hour?

“Computer, accepting call,” he said as he sat up in the bed and swung his legs over the side.

After a moment of dead silence, Dr. Agarwal replied, “Commander, I need you in Medic Labs.”

“Can’t this wait until morning, Dr. Agarwal?”

“With all due respect, sir, I am afraid it cannot wait. We had to seal off the Caverns and my containment unit is filled to the max with sick patients.”

“Okay. I am on my way. Is Davies there yet?” Rourke asked as he went to his wardrobe and got out a contamination suit.

“He is. He’s been between the Labs and the Cavern all night, sir.”

“I will be there in five, Dr. Agarwal. Computer off.”

Rourke dressed quickly and then headed down the lift to Medic Labs. When the lift opened, the entire sector was on high alert. Red lights swirled across stark white walls. Medics rushed from room to room, some with beds, others with medical equipment. Sick men, women and children lined walls or stood just inside doorways. Rourke could only hear his own heart beating; it nearly deafened him. He hated contamination suits. Finally, he spotted Dr. Agarwal exiting the main lab and flagged her down.

“It’s chaos in here!” Rourke yelled. He never could gauge how well others could hear him in those damn suits.

Dr. Agarwal nodded and motioned for Rourke to follow her. “It’s been like this for three hours now. It’s that damn fruit you warned us about.”

Rourke followed the doctor down a long corridor and into one of the containment units. The room was jammed with beds and patients hooked up to monitors. It was quiet with the exception of the beeps from the monitors and the hum of the mechanical scanners.

“Most of the patients in here are near death, Commander,” Dr. Agarwal said as she watched the computer screens for updates. “We’ve isolated the virus, but it is a mutated strain from the one two years ago. I have a team of Epidemiologists working on it, but I am afraid we may be too late for these people.”

Rourke looked out across the large unit. “How many are in here, doctor?”

“We have fifty in this unit, another fifty in the unit across the hall, but Commander,” Dr. Agarwal said, then paused. She placed a hand on his arm and continued, “We are still bringing up people who haven’t been scanned yet. There could be more. So many more.” She removed her hand from Rourke and brushed away a strand of hair that had fallen across her forehead.

Rourke could see the worry on her face. She’d dealt with the virus outbreak with poise and calm two years prior, but it had been isolated to only a small group. This was the entire Caverns where thousands, some already in poor health, gathered in confined spaces with one another. He longed to comfort her, but there was no time for such things.

“Jeremy,” Dr. Agarwal began, her face suddenly flushed. She turned and stared at him, tears welling up. “Davies’ team found nine dead bodies down there.”

“Nine? And there are a hundred more near death up here. Ananda, this is worse than I feared.”

“There’s more,” Dr. Agarwal said as she lowered her eyes.

“What more could there possibly be?” Rourke asked.

Dr. Agarwal looked back up at him, tears now streaming down her face. “Jeremy, one of the dead…” she paused and tried to compose herself. Shaking her head, she continued, “It’s Dalia Andrews, Jeremy.”

Rourke stared at her in disbelief. He shook his head and took a step backwards. This couldn’t be. Not Dalia. He’d know her since she was a child. She’d grown up with his daughter. He could still remember the two of them playing hopscotch at his home on Earth… Katie, his daughter, with her long brown ponytail and Dalia, with her long blond braids, skipping across the sidewalk, laughing. He’d promised her parents he would take care of her when they died in a car accident fifteen years ago and until now, he’d kept that promise. Dalia… not his precious Dalia.

“Are you sure it is her?” he finally asked.

Dr. Agarwal nodded. “Davies confirmed it. Jeremy, I am so sorry.”

Rourke turned away from her and pressed his back against the wall. Slowly, he slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor. “Katie is going to be heartbroken. I don’t even know how to tell her,” he mumbled, his hands pressed over his mouth.

Dr. Agarwal sat down beside him and placed an arm around his shoulder. “Do you want me to tell her?”

“No, she will want to hear it from me. How could this have happened? And what the hell was Dalia doing down in the Caverns?”

“Jeremy, listen to me. None of this is your fault. I know you. You will take all of the blame and beat yourself up over it for eons,” Dr. Agarwal said, leaning in close to Rourke.

“But why, Ananda? Why was she down there? There is nothing down there. Nothing but misery.”

“I’ve heard rumors for a while now about a night club of sorts down there. Some of the young interns here in the Labs go there on weekends.”

Rourke turned his head and stared long and hard at her for a moment. A night club? Why hadn’t he heard about this before now? “There are tons of night clubs, bars, and restaurants up here. Why are the kids going down there?”

Dr. Agarwal rubbed Rourke’s back and then said, “Think about it, Jeremy. They are young, some under age. If they want to get drunk or high, they can’t do it up here. There is too much security.”

Rourke wiped away the tears from his eyes. “Right, but Dalia is twenty-three.”

“She’s young, Jeremy, and the young go where it is hip and fresh. You were young once and you didn’t always stick to the norm, either.”

Rourke smiled at her weakly. “You are right. I didn’t and I got into a lot of trouble because of it.” He stood up and offered a hand to help Dr. Agarwal up. He held her hand for a moment longer and squeezed it. “I need to call Katie. Will you be okay here?”

“Of course. I will call when we figure something out. Tell Katie I send my condolences.”

‘I will,” he said, releasing her hand.

He smiled at her again and then left the Medic Labs. Standing in the lift, Rourke removed the headgear of the containment suit and sighed. He would have to arrange for Katie to come to the Station. She would want to be there for Dalia’s funeral. Dalia loved being in space and Rourke would give her a space funeral, just the way he promised her. Katie hated space. She was an Earth girl through and through. Only his or Dalia’s death could get Katie in space. He’d hoped it would be him first. The lift opened and Rourke stepped out and into the Command Center. It was strange not seeing Dalia there. He sat down behind his desk and spoke into the intercom.

“Computer, call Katie Rourke, New York City, Earth.”

________________________________________________

Davies was disgusted. He’d been down in the Caverns all night and the better part of the day with his team. They’d found the location of the unauthorized festival and what was left of the contaminated fruit. Jack Sparks, a renegade captain from the decommissioned UCE Palamedes, had set up shop in the Caverns, running an illegal night club and casino. He admitted to buying the fruit but swore he didn’t know it was contaminated. He’d been in lock-up for three hours but still wouldn’t give up his source. Davies ordered to keep him in the hole until he talked. Davies was tired, hungry and damn well pissed off about Dalia Andrews’s death. Someone needed to pay for that and he was determined to catch the culprit. He checked in with his team and was just about to head up to the Galley for some dinner when one of his officers caught his attention.

“Chief,” the young officer began, “I think you need to come look at this.”

The officer led Davies down a long corridor to one of the tent dwellings. Inside one of the tents was crates of boxes. Davies bent over one of them and picked up an artifact. He held it up and shown his flashlight on it.

“Is this what I think it is?” Davies asked the officer.

“Yes, sir. It’s Arzanian. Some kind of sex ritual goddess statue, I think.”

“You’re damn straight it is. They are rare and highly illegal to own unless you are Arzanian!” Davies looked around in the other crates and found other alien artifacts, many listed as missing or stolen by the Intergalactic Bureau of Investigation, or the IBI, as it was called. If word got out that these artifacts were on Astraeus, the ramifications could be world-shattering. This would have to be handled delicately.

“Who else has seen these, officer?”

“Just me, Chief.”

Davies put the artifacts back into the crates and hammered the lids shut. “Take these to the Command Center. Use the secure lift and don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen here. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir!” the officer said, saluting Davies.

“What a shit-storm!” Davies mumbled under his breath as he left the tent.

Davies got into the secure lift. On his way up to the Command Center, he called Rourke and told him he was on his way there. Whoever was behind this mess had gone too far. He could handle a few faulty machine parts and they’d handled a virus loose on the Station before. Not to this extent, of course, but they’d handled it. But now, stolen artifacts! And not just any artifacts, but alien religious and historical statues that were strictly forbidden to be owned by Earthlings. This could cause war. Davies had had enough of war. Some damages were just too great to be taken lightly.

(more to come in Monday’s challenge… tomorrow is an off day, so there will not be any posting)

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