Second Class Humans

Now close to their goal and with Hans tired from carrying the dead weight, which he will not stop bitching about, that is the unconscious Fredrik, he asks, “Well what are we going to do with him now?”

If it were possible Basri would likely demand he continue carrying the unconscious man, but it isn’t. That means a decision has to be made and as the appointed leader of their little trio of Dissidents, Basri is the one that has to make that decision. He’s made it already, not that he thinks likes the conclusion he’s come too, even if it is the only sensible one and one that he has been mulling over for a good while. Still, he issues his order, “Wake him up.”

“What? Really? Why? We could just leave him. He isn’t one of us.” Hans fires back unable to believe what he is hearing.

“Hans he’s a citizen of Lunar. He deserves a future as much as anyone else on this rock.” Carmen says reminding the man of something she believes he might have forgotten, but shouldn’t have seeing as people like Fredrik are part of the reason they are doing what they are. Though, it dawns on Carmen that perhaps that isn’t why Hans is doing this. The man is a walking contradiction as at any time before this, when they are alone as a trio, he has revealed himself to be caring and inclusive. Yet, right now in the presence of one who isn’t a part of their group, team, whatever you want to call it, he is showing that he couldn’t care less. Carmen had believed that was all front, an act to survive and get through the oppression of the UEG. Why she can’t say as she has witnessed this behaviour from him countless times previously. In fact, it’s why she has often chastised him and told him to drop the act. Perhaps, she realises, it isn’t an act at all. Perhaps he really doesn’t care about Fredrik or many of the others on Lunar. Maybe he really is doing this for himself and those he knows. She doesn’t want to believe it but can’t categorically state that such a thing isn’t true.

Hans offloads Fredrik, grumbling, and then shifts his position so he is in a squat over the unconscious man, where he remains for the few seconds prior to him delivering a hard slap across the engineers face. The action elicits no response from Fredrik though Carmen explodes angrily asking, “What the hell is wrong with you? Why don’t you think before you act?”

As the last words of her second query leave her lips she shoves Hans. The man moves away confused as to why his actions have been met with such an outburst. For that reason alone he offers, “All I was trying to do was rouse him.”

Carmen in response shakes her head and mumbles something Hans cannot make out. Then she drops down into a squat at Fredrik’s side leaving Hans to turn to Basri who signals that Hans gives Carmen a minute. In reply Hans raises his hands to ask what he’s done wrong seeing as all he tried to do was wake Fredrik and got screamed at for it. However, the response from Basri is nothing more than a commanding glare.

Hans doesn’t understand why he’s being picked on, but relents with a shrug and then begins to wonder off. Basri follows right after so that Carmen can be given the time she needs to wake Fredrik. Not that he is happy about the prospect of Fredrik, a civilian, coming with them any further than he already has.

However, he knows there is little choice. Carmen planted the initial seed of logic, and though she is not in-charge here, Basri knows better than to argue against her because she is right and they simply just don’t have the time.

His description of where they are currently would be the oesophagus of the beast, heading for the belly which is their goal. Not that they are literally within a living beast and wish to head into such a things belly. It is simply an analogy and a pretty apt one at that Basri thinks.

Carmen, sure that her two co-conspirators are finally out of earshot, leans in and begins to whisper to Fredrik. “You need to wake up now Fredrik. We can carry you no further than this. Please, listen to my voice, follow it, awaken from unconsciousness.”

Carmen makes sure her tone is soft and quiet as she utters the words into his ear, over and over. She can’t say why those words. In many ways they seem an odd choice to her but she persists with them nonetheless.

Still, it takes several repetitions before Fredrik begins to stir and then finally let out a groan of discomfort. It’s his head; it’s pounding and in a way that he can categorically say is more painful than it has ever been before at any point in his life. He doesn’t understand it’s this way. There is too much fog in his head for that, which is the reason for him questioning, “What happened?”

Then, the words spoken in query trigger a flash, in that flash his memory returns and with it he realises who the owner of the voice that had been urging him to awaken belongs to. In that moment he scrambles away and then leaps to his feet, his fists ball and rise so he can protect himself. His eyes are wild, angry and hurt as they dart left and right searching for fists that he is sure will be thrown his way for moment. They won’t and don’t exist but the engineer doesn’t know that.

“Fredrik, you need to calm down. You’re in no danger. No one is going to hurt you. We’re alone. It’s just the two of us. There is no one else here, right now.” Carmen attempts to reason with Fredrik but the engineer is not inclined to trust her. Regardless of the fact that she saved his life back on the transit shuttle.

“Please, lower your fists. No one is going to hurt you, but you need to listen to me.” Carmen continues her attempts to appeal to him.

“I don’t need to do any such thing.” Fredrik spits back in response without dropping his fists even a millimetre.

Fredrik has a point and Carmen knows it. Not that her acceptance of this changes her automatic reaction of sighing in frustration, throwing her head back and then rolling it.

Following that she admits, “True, you don’t have to but you should.”

“Why should I?” Fredrik spits. “Seeing as since laying eyes on you when I boarded that shuttle my life has gone from bad to worse.” Fredrik retorts bluntly. It’s as though he had been expecting the words that came out of Carmen’s mouth and she’s taken aback by that. Yet, her surprise lasts only a very short period and after it she responds with, “Says the guy who was eyeing me up from the moment he first laid eyes on me.”

The blond haired engineer says nothing in response. Rather, he stands motionless mulling over her words. He could argue with her claim but if he did he’d be lying. They’d both know it to be true so he relents, lowers his balled fists and says, “Fine, I’ll listen to what you have to say.” His tone is abundantly hesitant, but Carmen will take it. It’s further forward than she was moments ago and with time short she’ll take whatever morsel she’s offered.

Unfortunately, before Carmen can say anything Basri appears and reminds, “We need to get moving. That’s an order. It’s not up for debate.”

Carmen’s jaw drops as she turns and stares with a look of frustration at Basri before uttering, “Give us one more minute.”

“Time’s up. It’s now or never.” Basri replies unsympathetic to Carmen’s pleas. He really doesn’t understand why the dark haired woman is putting so much effort into convincing this engineer. He isn’t one of them, a Dissident, a rebel. He’s just one of the sheep who follow what the UEG say even though they despise the life they’ve been lumbered with. He doesn’t get it, but if this works they will have handed freedom to everyone, including men and women like Fredrik who refuse to stir the pot and get involved.

A long sigh slips from between Carmen’s lips as she physically deflates before Basri’s eyes. Shortly after she mumbles something he doesn’t catch. He can guess it relates to her frustrations, but knows better than to question her on them or ask her to repeat herself. If he did it would only drag this whole scenario out and waste more time they don’t have. After all Carmen will relent and do the right thing for the cause, which she does barely five seconds later when she nods in acceptance.

“Does that mean I can go?” Fredrik asks sure he already knows what the response will be. He could risk fighting this trio for his freedom but doubts he’d win, especially as his vision is still fuzzy. How long it will take to entirely clear he can’t say. And why Carmen was so adamant to get through to him and convince him he hasn’t a clue. They don’t know each other, so what does it matter? Again he has no answer.

“No. You’re in this with us for the duration. Unless that’s a problem?” Basri utters as his fingers wrap around the grip of his modified rivet gun. It’s a silent threat. One that Carmen hasn’t noticed and that is probably just as well. Basri imagines it wouldn’t sit well with her if she did notice it.

“Of course it’s a problem. You can let me go. I won’t say anything to anyone.” Fredrik replies without taking note of Basri’s hand resting on the rivet gun that hangs from the man’s waist.

Basri sighs. He’s frustrated by the fact that the engineer is unaware of the implied threat levelled at him. Because of that Basri is instead forced to use logic and reason. “Ok. Let me put it this way. Even if I was willing to let you walk off, which I’m not, you can’t because the security system we interrupted to get down here is now very much back online. If you trip that, which you would as there is no other way out of here without doing so, all you’d succeed in doing is bringing a hundred agents down here. We both know how itchy their trigger fingers are. And sure you could, maybe, try and reason with them, but how well do you think that would go? I think you’ve worked it out but encase somehow you haven’t I’ll fill you in. They’d shoot you, on sight. You wouldn’t get so much as a single word out of your mouth before they filled you full of holes. Is that clear enough for you? Do you understand now why the only choice you have is to keep moving forward with us?”

And though the explanation is long, perhaps a tad too much so, and more than a little condescending, it is also about as blunt as is possible to achieve.

Carmen is mortified by Basri’s outburst, even if it does have the desired effect. Not that Fredrik entirely trusts or believes what the man before him with un-styled black hair has said. However, Carmen’s reaction suggests he could very well be telling the truth. Not that the engineer trusts her either. This could all be part of some elaborate plan. Why he doesn’t know and to be honest doesn’t rightly care either. He just wants this to be over and so as he can’t prove one way or the other if what has been said is true, he settles on agreeing, begrudgingly.

“Fine. I’ll tag along.”

“Time is short. You need to get up here so we’re ready.” Hans calls from some unknown distance up ahead. His voice is loud and booming as it echoes down the surprisingly clean grey corridor, the ceiling of which is covered in conduits of varying sizes that all run parallel to one another. This place might even be the cleanest place on the Moon, which for a maintenance corridor seldom used but heavily wired for surveillance and security, seems strange.

Basri immediately looks to a timing device fastened around his wrist. He curses as he realises that Hans is right and that they are cutting it mighty fine. It’s why he quickly gestures that Carmen and Fredrik follow now or be left behind. As he does so he breaks into a sprint. It’s slow at first, giving his legs time to get up to speed, but he accelerates swiftly. He doesn’t want to miss this. He can’t. It’s why he’s here.

Carmen and a reluctant Fredrik follow suit. The engineer requiring encouragement from the woman with the bob cut to keep up his pace.

The first thing Fredrik notes as they close the gap to Hans is that the man is stood motionless, his eyes shifting nervously between them and the wall less than a metre away from him and back towards them. The blond man knows that perhaps he shouldn’t but feels a need to ask what it is that has Hans looking so worried. Before Fredrik can though a sizzling noise fills the air. It fizzes in Fredrik’s ears, but he has to admit that it is unlike anything he has ever experienced before. Because of that it takes him a while to work out from which direction it is coming from. When he does he looks back over his shoulder. For a couple seconds there is nothing but the the empty stretch of corridor he has just torn down at speed. After that a massive discharge of superheated matter is ejected into the space. Fredrik’s eyes go wide. In fact, all their eyes go wide, including Hans who is still rooted to the same spot ahead of them as Basri, Carmen and Fredrik urge their legs to pump faster.

Fredrik blasts past Basri and then finally Hans. The engineer is unsure as to why Hans isn’t running, but Fredrik isn’t about to slow and find out. Though the engineer does hear Hans bellow, “Carmen, you need to hurry!”

His voice is panicked and why Fredrik turns. Immediately he catches sight of the woman as she finishes recovering from a forward stumble. In that moment Fredrik does the calculations and determines that the woman is never going to make it before the now descending pressure door, that he wasn’t aware of until now, will be in place. If that happens Carmen will be stuck in that section of corridor with whatever the superheated matter is and without a way out. However, Fredrik does now understand why Hans hadn’t pushed deeper into the shaft like Fredrik had. It seems he’d worked out where the door would emerge from. Fredrik should have to, but in his panic and determination to survive he’d been completely oblivious to the clear recess from which the door is now emerging.

Fredrik lets out a sigh. He knows what he is about to do is foolish, probably even suicidal, but he does it anyway and rushes back past Hans heading for Carmen.

It takes Hans moments to realise what has happened and who has shot past him but once he has he roars, “You’ll never make it!”

Hans’ voice is filled with surprise, shock and fear. Fredrik ignores the man’s words as he hurtles toward Carmen, his arm reaching for Carmen who herself is reaching for him.

Suddenly he grabs a hold of her hand, their fingers interlock and in that moment Fredrik does an immediate about turn and then pumps his legs as fast as they can manage. His pace and the severity of his pull so great that Carmen is pulled entirely off her feet and left to wave like the end of a scarf might in a strong wind.

She’d demand he stop but knows that if she did it might throw him off. Doing that could seal both their fates. Instead, she locks her eyes on the ever diminishing gap that is their escape from whatever matter it is that is being pumped into this space. Carmen wonders if it’s part of some security measure. If the UEG know they are down here. She hopes not. They are so close. Little does Carmen know that this event has nothing to do with some security system. In fact, it is a routine function that occurs periodically and is a direct result of the LunarLink’s operational procedures relating to cooling.

Suddenly Carmen realises they are at the pressure door as it continues to slowly descend. The gap that remains is narrow but wide enough to get through, for the moment. To her surprise Fredrik does not dive to the floor and slither through dragging her behind him, like he had done with their frantic and lightning fast rush down the corridor. Instead, he almost throws her under the door, through the gap. A cloud of steam fills the air around her just as she begins to crawl the rest of the way under the half metre thick metal door that is edging ever closer downward.

Then Hans appears. He grabs hold of both of Carmen’s wrists and pulls her toward him until she is clear of the door. Both cough and splutter as a result of the steam cloud that is choking off their supply of oxygen as it pours through from the space beyond through the narrow gap.

Carmen can’t believe she’s alive and wouldn’t be if not for… It is at that point that she remembers Fredrik is the one who saved her but that he isn’t there next to her. Panic fills her lungs, making her chest tight as she exclaims, “Fredrik!”

Terror quickly replaces the panic as she wonders if he made it. She can’t see him and isn’t sure that if he’s lost his life saving hers she will ever be able to forgive herself.

“It’s too late. The door will have sealed. If he isn’t through now there’s no saving him.” Hans explains much to the disdain of Carmen who isn’t willing to give up so easily even though she knows he’s right. Except, the steam cloud isn’t clearing like it should be. It’s still pumping and billowing into the space around them. Surely if the door had sealed it wouldn’t be. Just as that realisation hits her there is a large break in the steam cloud through which she catches sight of Fredrik as he pulls himself through a no longer diminishing gap. She wonders how this is possible as a smile appears across his face. It’s relief that he’s displaying and all because he’s alive. He shouldn’t be and wouldn’t have been if not for him having forgotten to put his wrench in his storage locker when he quit his shift. The tool wedged between the floor and the pressure door to keep it from slamming closed. The engineer hadn’t been sure that it would work, but had been the only option he’d had available to him unless he’d wanted to accept defeat and die. He’d been in no way inclined to suffer that fate. Not after everything he’s survived thus far today.

“We need to seal this door before UEGSec get down here.” Basri exclaims without showing any emotion over the fact that Carmen and, even more remarkably, Fredrik have both survived.

“Relax.” Fredrik urges as he grabs a hold of his wedged wrench and pulls it as hard as he can. To his surprise it comes free easier than he would have imagined. Not that the engineer wastes any time in retracting his arm as the heavy metal door slams shut sealing whatever it was that filled the space behind them and caused that steam. Or what they all think was steam. It certainly wasn’t smoke. That they know for sure.

“Are you crazy?” Basri roars angrily before continuing, “You had no right and might have just jeopardised our entire mission with that stunt!”

Fredrik chuckles in response which is not at all what any of the trio of Dissidents expected. Carmen for one is boiling with rage and right now wants to kick Basri as hard as she can manage right between the legs. It’s not what he deserves, he deserves a lot more, but it would suffice for the time being.

“What’s so funny?” Basri spits in query.

“You think that brief delay will have given you away.” Fredrik remarks before explaining, “I’m an engineer and can safely say that timing margins will mean that no alarm or alert will have been tripped. Hell, it won’t have even registered. So relax. Your precious mission is still very much on.”

Disgust drips from Fredrik’s tone as he shakes his head. The engineer is disappointed that Basri, a fellow Dissident, stood by and did nothing to help one of his own, Carmen. In fact, it seems he was willing to leave her to her fate without attempting to do so much as lift a finger. Hans, Fredrik gets, fear paralysed him. That the blond haired man can condone as he himself has been paralysed by fear numerous times today with everything that he’s ended up embroiled in. But Basri, what he did was cold and callous. That the engineer cannot forgive and doubts Carmen will be able to either, and for good reason.

“So that’s why you have a wrench?” Hans blurts, vocalising the thought that has just come into his head.

“Yep.” Fredrik confirms before he turns to Carmen, who is still on the floor at his side and asks, “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Carmen states, but Fredrik has already caught sight of the burn on her back.

She sees him looking, his expression is genuine concern, which is why she promises, “It’s nothing. Now let’s get moving.”

Fredrik, already on his feet, offers his hand to Carmen who takes it graciously and uses him to help climb back to her feet and steady herself.

“What? Why all the looks? Aren’t we on a mission? Or are we just here to stand around looking at each other?” Carmen quips once she has dusted herself off and sure her balance will suffice.

She doesn’t wait for a reply. Rather, she pushes past Basri, making sure to give him the evil eye, and continues down the corridor. She hopes there will be no more unpleasant, and painful, surprises.

Fredrik follows close behind. He doesn’t look at Basri, while Hans shrugs only for Basri to reply with a silent shake of his own head.

One thought on “Second Class Humans

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