Friday, May 06, 2011


Rigor Mortis

You open your eyes as you wake up, close them, open them again. Strange. The supposed glare of the bright ceiling lights does not affect your eyes when you gaze to make an observation of the surroundings where you find a dull humming sound lightly assaulting your auditory nerves. Then you see a familiar face, smiling at you, and there’s another one as you move your head.

"How do you feel, Dude?" you recognize the voice, it is Romulus asking you. "Fine, I'm fine," your answer is automatic although you know that your name was not Dude and you don't really feel fine at all especially with the irritating drone. But you sit up in the proper posture, clumsily, almost losing your balance, and position your head to face Romulus to return the greeting.

"How are you doing, Romulus?" you ask with politeness. You get a nod and you move your head again to continue the courtesy greeting to the other fellow. "How about you, Captain Salcedo, how is it going with the ship chores?" The addressee smiles but to nobody in particular. You feel somewhat rejected by the Captain's gesture but you plainly admit that his rank affords him of that convenience.

"Is everything all right?" he asks and your consciousness begin to spin as you make a scan of your own memory functions, recalling the past events before you embarked on this long trip, searching for every relevant information in the corners of your mind. You are relieved to find everything in perfect order and the excitement makes you forget, even for a short while, the annoying drone. With a semblance of a smile, you stand up to give a snappy salute like a real good soldier.

"Pvt. Roy G. Biv, Sir, reporting for duty."
Pvt. Roy G. Biv

"I think he's ready for it," you hear Captain John Salcedo's pronouncement, giving you confidence to ignore the emptiness inside you brought about by the feeling of rejection. There is something amiss, though inexplicably difficult to ask, you have that desire but you are afraid to query the captain. You do understand your mission and you are certain to have understood it when you made the decision to sign the contract.

"Are you positive that you can handle the job?" Captain Salcedo asks you again, staring at your face while awaiting for your answer. JOB? The word 'job' brings a peculiar feeling which you cannot define in simple terms and the nearest adjective to describe it is melancholy. A stream of ideas converge in the core of your consciousness, creating a stirring whirlpool of data in your head. The mixed recollection triggers some sort of a confusion which gives you a discomfort in your abdomen. You try to heave a sigh to repress the budding tightness in your chest for you understand that emotion is counter productive.

"Yes, Sir!" you respond with an exclamation at the same time noticing your hand still in the saluting position. There is a marked slowness in your responses. You shake your head, put your right hand down to your side and remain standing erect.

The captain nods to Romulus and you see the two men leave the room. You can avail of this moment to have the time for yourself. Based on the available information at the moment, you are obliged to stay in the barren planet below to take charge of the diamond mining operation, the biggest enterprise undertaken by any company. A team of a hundred or so robots will be under your supervision and you are overflowing with confidence at the idea of having an intensive simulated training of two months.

You signed a contract of agreement, as far as you can remember, that you will do your utmost best to maximize the harvest of diamonds and minimize accidents brought by volcanic eruptions and meteor attacks. Only a human has the capability of sensing hidden dangers, they call it instinct, and it would be your primary duty to warn your wards. But you have a strong suspicion that your main job is to minimize expenses due to equipment losses. Yes, equipments, that's what the automatons are called by every human being.

You have an almost complete knowledge of this weird planet, the constant temperature of twenty below zero, the irregular terrain pockmarked by volcanic craters, some are visible and some are hidden by the thick but soft ice. Another peculiarity that you know is the frequent bombardment of meteors from outer space. You don't worry a bit because you will be provided with ample warning devices regarding potential but visible dangers and the security system that was explained to you in the orientation seems to be foolproof.

Your education in the university runs contrary to the oddity of this phenomenal place. The strong gravity measured at exactly two-point-five couldn't be felt at all because it is cancelled by the soft ground, mainly of dirt and ice. The upper crust is composed of ninety percent soil, rock, stone and ice, the lower part is suspected to consist of liquid. Although no human has set foot on it, the reaction of the 'equipments' registered a very slight effort adjustment. The company gazette described it as like walking on a waterbed.

Five percent of the ground is carbon, manganese and tin. The remaining five percent is supposed to be diamonds according to the study of the company's astro-geologists which was backed up by the statistics of recent harvests. An accepted theory says that the extreme heat of the inner core and the extreme cold temperature on the surface creates a massive clash of energies thereby making the planet a vast diamond farm.

Your thoughts are interrupted by the appearance of Romulus, holding something in his hand which looks like a palmtop minus the keyboard. It has several dangling cables, swinging in rhythm as Romulus approaches with a sincere smile on his face that gives a sort of assurance on your part. He is motioning for you to sit on the cot and you promptly oblige.

"Can you start working now or do you have questions?" Romulus takes the chair beside your cot and the discomfort in your upper abdomen instantly vanishes. You start sorting out the questions in your head which are presently entwined in the maze of ideas. Which to ask first? You don't know because confusion is at the reins of your awareness ably assisted by a mild dose of excitement. Ah, this state is called anxiety. But not to worry, the rewards are worth the troubles. Your salary is more than enough to give Belinda a good life. Belinda! You want to see Belinda, your beautiful Belinda. The tightness in your chest quickly returns but a little heightened this time.

"Roy, can you start work now?" Romulus repeats the question and your desire to reply is thwarted by a lump in your throat as a direct result of the discomfort in your upper abdomen. A vicious palpitation is developing and you begin to feel nausea creeping in. Confidence is quickly slipping by your grasp at the unexpected arrival of the ifs and buts.

"Pvt. Roy G. Biv, do you hear me?" with difficulty, you identify the captain's voice now. Fear is getting the best of your nerves and you voluntarily refuse to budge because an affirmative reply would signal the start of your job, and you're not ready by any standards. It is a certainty that you will be brought down from the ship into the surface, all by yourself, and these two, Captain Salcedo and Lt. Romulus, will immediately depart for earth, back to Belinda, leaving you alone with only the 'equipments' as company. It will be a lonely life without Belinda, you are dead sure of that.

"What has gone wrong?" the captain's hand grazes the side of your neck and as you hear a click, your chest loosens up and the nausea is turning from worse to bad. Involuntarily, you lay yourself on the cot. Lt. Romulus connects the cables of the thing he holds in his hand to a part of your body. You cannot move but you can hear and see them all right as Lt. Romulus turns some dials in his gadget. You feel a little better than a while ago, except for the irritating drone, but the lump in your throat remains, preventing you to reply - nothing's wrong.

"He might need ample time for acclimatization and it was not included in the experiment although I explicitly argued for that." Romulus shows a trace of indignation in his tone, giving you a bit of pleasure brought about by his show of concern. The captain stares at your eyes, he shakes his head and stares even
more closely, giving you a close up view of the contracting pupils of his eyes.

"We have to do a last minute diagnostics," declares Captain Salcedo, he's now looking at the gadget. Romulus relinquishes his seat to the captain with disgust painted on his face. You hear a buzz and a short ring, probably coming from the gadget but you are not sure because the humming sound distorts the quality of your hearing. Although the chest pain subsided, a mild headache is building up.

"Damn it!" the Captain is shouting. "His emotions are taking control. I thought they have tested everything before sending us out. Why is he reacting differently? He was not like this before we left the lab."

"Our quality control is very strict and I don't think they have left out something. As I said, Roy probably needs a little time to acclimatize."

Your judgment says that either the two are talking trash or your auditory function is failing you. There is a sudden urge to shift back to your recollection of Belinda, the good times you had in the university, the courtship, the engagement and the wedding. It was grand and you enjoyed your life with her. Your professorial chair provided you with the coveted financial security in the form of a very attractive retirement package. A big question crops up - why then would you care to go on a mission like this? The chest pain rebounded with a vengeance and the slight headache is ripening into a splitting type.

You will do anything for Belinda. She quit her clerical job in the university when she got pregnant with your first... Ah, the baby. Another question floated in your head. It might be coming soon or was it already born? The discomfort is two degrees higher now. Your head is swimming in a sea of details, drowning your consciousness with the tide of confusion, resulting in this unbearable state of physical discomfort. Think clearly, try to recall your times with Belinda.

"They considered everything," it is Romulus and the noticeable politeness in his tone interrupted your thoughts again. What a pleasant surpise, your hearing just went back to normal. "But Allan Tagg insisted that a family man will show an extreme sense of responsibility in times of crisis. That was his argument that silenced the panel of inquisitors."

"Who's Allan Tagg?"

"He's head of the R & D. You know the bureaucracy, the chief makes the final decision and the mistake is painfully discovered after a failure."
"Damn it! This failure is a costly one. The trip alone costs the company billions of dollars, all that for a simple miscalculation. They should have considered the fact that these married guys, the dwindling lot, are the weirdo type who fall into the trap called love."

"You have a point there, Sir."

"This guy Roy, have you met him?"

"Just once, at the lab during the preliminary interview. He was married for a year to a faculty associate. He even showed me a photo of his wife. I think her name was Belinda."

A jolt! The last word said by Romulus pierces your ears, penetrating your brain with indescribable pain. The torture is getting near the point of intolerance, the headache, the tension in your chest, there's also the numbness of your extremities. You cannot follow their conversation anymore, cannot distinguish who is saying what. But you know that you have to forget Belinda and the baby for a while. It is you and Belinda they are talking about and you have the concern to listen with utmost concentration.

"Well, Tagg said it was a calculated risk. Who can contest? Besides, R & D is the one in charge of everything down there."

"Damn it! They are in charge down there but I am in charge up here. They take the blame all right but I take the burden. A trip of one year is no joke and even if my salary is still paid in full, a failed mission is a big blow to my career.
"As I said, we are not sure yet."

"You are not... but I am. See these lines in the display? Check it out with the MainComp and I'll bet my ass if I'm wrong. The mental and physical lines are too dim to see and the only prominent line that I could discern is the emotional aspect. C'mon Lieutenant, wanna take the bet?"

"Sorry, I don't gamble. I'll just check it out for you."

The headache is subsiding and your chest loosens up again. Comfort is a luxury although every other part of your body remains numb and void of any sensation. Your vision is very blurred and only your hearing organs are working for you, but you try to ignore your physical condition for your main concern is the ongoing conversation.

Without the benefit of a concrete sensual proof, you can sense the captain do his thing with the gadget, and with your faulty vision you comprehend that he is shaking his head, sometimes nodding. It appears a routine to you and you might as well ignore him so that you can think of other things, the more important ones. They are not talking right now, anyway.

Belinda must be waiting at home tending the baby. You feel an itch, a yen to see her and be assured that she's well. And the baby, how does it look? When the captain is finished with the checkup you can demand an emergency hook-up to your home, just to see Belinda, to see the baby, to hear Belinda, to hearthe baby. Better yet, declare a revocation of the mission contract and go back to your teaching job at the university and be with Belinda. Yes, that's what you should do. Um, there goes the headache without any warning.

"I think you're right, Captain." You barely notice the ashen face of Romulus because your eyesight won't cooperate but recognizing his trembling voice is a good sign that your auditory nerves are still serviceable. You are intent on aborting your mission or even go AWOL if you desire so. But for the moment, let the two men finish with their checkup on you. The numbness is getting terrible, was it the drug that's controlling you?

"Damn it!" The captain's voice fills the entirety of the room and you hear a loud thump, presumably his fist hitting the side of the chair. There is a hush-hush going on between the two guys and for you to hear, you must try to ignore the punishing numbness and all the other unpleasant sensations. The captain's hand touches your neck again but unlike before, it did not affect your state of physical condition.

A quaint paralysis is taking over your whole being and the headache is slowly receding but your chest feels ready to explode anytime. Their voices are still audible except for some whispers that you fail to grasp. You want to talk, to move, to complain, the urge is strongest now but the body is weak due to the drug, maybe, and it is not responding to your wishes anymore. Routine check, that's all, not to worry, the effect of the drug, maybe, will wear off in due time. For the moment, the only choice left is to listen.

"What now, Captain?"

"What else but to dismantle this equipment and immediately head for home."
Equipment? Ah, that's odd, they're talking of strange and bizarre things. Equipment my eye! You get your wish now, heading for home to be with Belinda would be a pleasure. You're going to see your baby at last and stay with your family. What nice thoughts...

"Don't forget to file that report when we reach the office. Those guys at the R&D Lab must be taught a lesson."

"Yes, Sir."

"Talk about irony. I used to dream of being a captain, with all the glamour, the prestige and the dignified look of an officer. If only I knew about the responsibilities, I could have stayed as a Mate forever and be content with the rank of Lieutenant."

"But every crew's dream is to be a captain someday."

"Foolish dream, I'd say. Look at what we have in our hands. After they have done the program revisions of this equipment's operating system, I'm sure we will have to come back in this lousy planet to re-install him, or should I say IT."

"I think you're right, Sir. If the R&D guys were careful in selecting their subject for the neural pattern, there would be no hassles like this one."

"It is so simple, Lieutenant. They could have narrowed their choice to unattached males for a subject. Why do they have to always rely on the academicians in the universities? And picking a married professor at that. Now, they will see the logic in my argument that the attitudinal framework of a bachelor is better, no attachments, no emotional side effects."

You begin to experience a 'sensation leap,' the unproven theory of mood changes in a progressive fashion effected by a continuous emotional variation. The paralysis is waning, yes, the drug, maybe, is wearing off and you can now move your head, even only slightly. Think of Belinda, you will be with her soon. Now, move your head some more.

"Sir, I think the thing is moving."

"Ah, no problem. The circuits are already in the OFF mode and a diagnostic scan is just being taken before the total shutoff. We can dismantle this thing in a few seconds."

Good, that's good, Pvt. Roy G. Biv. After moving your head, you are ready to check your visual faculties. You'll be home soon with Belinda, Prof. Biv. Now, try to gaze at the surroundings and check out for dangers. Good, that's good, Pvt. Roy G. Biv. You'll be seeing your baby soon, Prof. Biv. Now, move your hands, Pvt. Roy G. Biv, move... move...

"But Sir, this is peculiar, the head and hands are moving. Look at his eyes, it is gazing at me and it seems like our equipment wants to say something."
"Hush, Romulus, that's normal for a robot. Every equipment has their own signature oddities. Its head and body movement is typical of the reaction you find in a dying human or more aptly, a clinically dead person. It is called, ah... Rigor Mortis."

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