Ice In The Veins

The world is black. Soren can see nothing, but he can hear perfectly. His breathing is calm as he inhales and the exhales softly over and over. He knows he could move his hands, but doesn’t. He refuses to ruin the moment by making any unnecessary movements. Peace and serenity are something that he is seldom able to achieve and now that he has he will hold onto it for as long as he can. It will be gone soon. He knows that. It’s happened before and will happen again. Though, that does not mean he will end it before it ends itself.

He isn’t asleep. He knows that. He hasn’t been asleep. He’s been wide awake the whole time, just listening in silence with his eyes closed to the world around him even though it is silent. The only sounds are those coming from himself. He drinks the sensation in, hungry for it and then he feels a tingle ripple across his back. It isn’t painful or uncomfortable. In fact, in many ways it is familiar. He can’t put his finger on why but he lets it happen and as he does he becomes aware of his extremities. They are motionless, as he would expect. However, they are not laid out as he would have anticipated. Instead, his arms are bent at the elbows, with his arms raised and his fingers interlocked behind his head. He would have guessed them down at his sides, but isn’t about to complain or contradict what he feels is true. Doing so might ruin the flow of what he is experiencing and that would be wasteful. Yes, he decides that wasteful is the correct term, at least in his eyes.

He marks that as funny seeing as he is the only one present and his eyes are closed. A smile slips across his face. He can feel it but he makes sure not to study the change too deeply. Doing so will end this journey sooner than intended. That is why he turns his thoughts toward his legs.

He can feel them too but as yet has not considered them in any way. So he does and ascertains that they are splayed perhaps thirty centimetres apart, heels facing inward toward one another. It is not a way that Soren ever remembers having held them before now, and yet he wouldn’t call it uncomfortable. Rather, he would simply consider the sensation of them sitting in this way different, and a good different at that.

Then he hears a sound that isn’t from his body or himself. The sound causes him to frown. He doesn’t want to follow it but the more he resists the urge to the more it calls to him and tugs at his mind to consider its presence. Finally, and with what Soren can only explain as a mental sigh of disappointment, he follows the thread.

Sound as a thread is an abstract concept to Soren and not one he has ever considered before. Though, here and now it seems the perfect representation. The sound still means nothing to him however, and even as he follows the thread he cannot explain or name what the sound is. Perhaps he hasn’t followed the line far enough to get a good grip of what it might be and yet that seems incorrect somehow. For what reason he cannot say but that is what he believes. So he dives deeper, heading toward the sound which repeats haphazardly over and over at irregular intervals.

Finally he joins with the sensation. At first it is soft and barely noticeable. Quickly that changes as it morphs into what Soren can only describe as a prodding, no, probing. Soren stops his pursuit of the sound and the feeling but it makes no difference to the increasing severity of the touch and volume that now fills his senses. Before much longer it becomes too much and he has to see what is going on.

Soren’s eyes burst open with a start, as if he has woken even though he knows he was never asleep. To his astonishment in the seconds after his eyes open he is not met with blinding light. In fact, his eyes are met with no light at all and yet he can see vague static shapes. Details of the shapes are lost to him and the more he tries to peer into the darkness the less he thinks he can see of their outlines. It’s the oddest visual experience he has ever been subjected to. And he would call it that, subjected, as something was prodding him. Of that he is sure but even raising his head, as he does now, gives him no answer in this lightless void. That should unnerve him, though it does not. He still feels calm, serene and as if this is all a part of what is supposed to occur.

Reassurance is something that humans seldom experience in the twenty second century because of the impending risk of civilizations collapse as a result of having never cracked FTL travel and having been consigned to the thousand closest worlds that it had managed to desperately expand out into.

Suddenly a new sound cracks through the shell of his current self, but unlike the previous still indiscernible sound this one makes Soren’s skin crawl. Swiftly he reaches a conclusion to what this sound is, laughter: cruel, off-kilter, mocking and violent.

Why those particular words materialise inside his head he cannot say and yet he has no reason to argue with them. They feel right. They fit perfectly. He just wishes the laugh would stop. It doesn’t. Rather, it continues. Never getting louder or quieter or taking a pause. It just continues, relentlessly and in a manner that is entirely unnatural.

People, if it does belong to a person, would need to pause for breath, but this sound does no such thing. It simply repeats over and over without hesitation or falter as Soren’s eyes continue to probe at the darkness. He doesn’t have a clue what he is searching for or if it is even him that is searching. He feels like a passenger now. A foreign object in another’s body, one who is forced to watch whatever it is that is unfolding. The only control he has is over the eyes, his eyes. He can’t quite be sure they are his eyes but reasons that they must be seeing as before this he could feel and hear everything himself, instead of through the filtered disconnect it now seems to be.

As his eyes dart everywhere, in all directions searching he spies a patch of white. It is as brilliant as it is perfect.

As soon as he tries to look at where he saw it, somewhere off to his lower left, it is gone however. He thinks he must have imagined it but just as he settles on returning to probe the lightless space around him it returns at an entirely different point, almost the exact opposite of where it first appeared. Again Soren tries to look at it but again as soon as he tries it vanishes. Now he feels thundering. It’s the rapid beating of a heart. Yet, he can’t bring himself to say that it is his heart because of the disconnect.

That alone, he thinks, should panic him and yet it doesn’t. He takes note of that but returns to probing, seeing as he can do nothing else. Then the laugh changes and becomes a cackle. That makes it all the more terrifying. Those bolts of fear feel muted but nevertheless surge up, down and across in all directions. This time they feel like they are coming from his back. Not a disconnected feeling happening to the back of another. He marks that as progress, just not the type he would like to be subject to at this moment. It’s why he instead wishes he was a passenger again. Such wishes and wants are not answered, not that they were ever going to be, as the sensation in the body, Soren’s body, are quickly heaped back atop him until he can feel everything.

He hates it. It makes him want to scream and yet he doesn’t. He can’t explain why and then a face, twisted, smeared with blood, eyes large and black as night and teeth yellow and barred, leaps toward him. It’s frightening, horrifying even, and his automatic response is to get away. How makes no sense to him seeing as he was lying, to his knowledge, on something. That alone should make escape impossible and yet he now feels himself falling with the cackle loud in his ears, mocking. His arms and legs flailing as he falls through the darkness. He wonders what will meet him. Where he will find himself. If he will survive this fall through the unknown. He doesn’t know and that only adds to his terror. He screws his eyes shut as tightly as he can manage as he continues to plummet.

Suddenly, Soren stops falling and feels a burst of pain jolt up his side. The burst throws his eyes open. He ignores the sudden assault from bright light that comes to meet them without remorse or mercy. A couple seconds pass, if that, before Soren realises that he is lying vaguely on his side, naked on the dark wood-substitute floor of his apartment on Hera, the planet he has spent most of his adult life on.

Relief washes over him. He is in familiar surroundings, alone and that is the best scenario he didn’t want to imagine encase it didn’t transpire. But as he moves he feels the throb of pain from his side. He curses with a grumble as he winces and then shifts his weight just enough so he can probe the area with several fingers of his left hand without eliciting too greater surge of pain again.

What Soren discovers is that he has no wound. He feels his calm well inside him as his first thought was that he had suffered an injury. Then he feels his pulse ebb and slow, it’s the result of the calm that began to well. Though, he wouldn’t quite call the slowing of his pulse a return to his base heart rate. That will come in time, he knows. For now its current pace should suffice, especially as there is no cackling or angry face thrusting toward him. He remembers the face that came at him but cannot say he has ever seen it before that moment. However, the details are already beginning to fade. They shouldn’t be. He wasn’t dreaming. He is sure of it. Or at least he had been sure. Now something picks at him like a child might a scab, calling doubt into what he thought was fact.

“Maybe I was dreaming.” Soren mutters quietly to himself after a period of silent contemplation which is followed by him letting out a long sigh.

Time passes. Soren cannot say how long. It feels like less than a minute, but he could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time today. But was it even today that the sensations he felt in the dark and explored, so sure he was awake, were even today? He hasn’t an answer and perhaps that is for the best. Much like how the details are fading leaving him with only a feeling. That too will also soon be gone.

It must have been a dream, nightmare, Soren concludes now that he is on his feet and shuffling about his apartment clad in a simple thin robe. It’s all anyone needs on Hera. It’s a tropical planet. It had been beautiful once. At least it had from the images Soren had managed to find. Now the beauty is largely gone. What remains of it is staged. Recreations of what had once been a verdant planet until the resource demands had forced humanity to sign executive orders to strip-mine colony worlds to sustain the civilization that had been built upon them.

Had Soren been present in those times he cannot say that he would have stood by and let such things happen, even if he does understand why they needed to. In truth, many had not. Soren had never ascertained as to how the protests had been stopped. Nothing states that they were stopped brutally or otherwise. It’s as if they simply ended. It is possible that such a thing is the entirety of what happened and yet it seems unlikely. Humans never just stop. If they find a cause they stick vehemently to it, even if it is lost. In fact, lost causes seem to be a greater boon to mankind than any other.

“I need coffee.” Soren utters with a quick shake of his head.

The sudden craving ejects all the previous thoughts involving of protests and the like from his head as he deems his own immediate needs more important than those of a past event he can do nothing to change. Especially as any and all parties involved from that time are long dead.

Human life expectancy might have roughly doubled, but it would have had to quadruple at the least, he thinks, for anyone from that era to still be amongst them today. He can’t be sure of his maths right now however, not with his craving for coffee as insistent as it is.

Soren having reached the coffee percolator grabs a hold of the long silver chrome effect handle and pulls it free of its circular base. He expects he’ll be greeted with disappointment in the form of an empty pot. However, as he brings it closer to him and peers down he finds to his surprise that there is just enough in the pot for maybe a cup and a half of coffee.

Soren’s head falls back as a smile tears across his face. He doesn’t thank a deity. He doesn’t believe in one. No one does. Not since humanity spread across the stars and found no other sentient life, or even the remains of them. Instead, Soren just counts that luck has favoured him.

He must have somehow, for once, left just enough for this morning. It’s rare but not unheard of for the engineer to think about the following morn and his cravings.

Having brought his head back down to normal orientation he sidesteps across his kitchen to a clean mug that is sitting on the countertop nearby. Again, it’s like he planned for this moment. He shrugs, surprised but pleased with how his morning is going thus far since his awakening. Even if his night wasn’t what he would have wished for. Not that he can remember what his nightmare was or the feeling it elicited in him. Both are gone. Never to be recalled. Perhaps that is for the best.

However, as Soren carefully places and then holds the mug to begin pouring the percolator of still hot coffee, there is a knock at the door. Soren pauses and readjusts the angle so not to absentmindedly pour the scalding hot coffee all over his hand, while his eyes linger on his grey apartment door. The engineer stands in place willing for whoever is on the other side to depart when there is a second quick succession of wraps. Soren sighs and his shoulders drop. He had hoped whoever might be interrupting his so far decent morning might knock once and depart. However, it seems his luck isn’t extending that far this particular morning. He knew he shouldn’t have dared to dream that it might. Doing so was always going to mean he was running the risk of asking for too much.

He puts the percolator down, begrudgingly, and begins the relatively short journey to his door. Or it would be short if he didn’t have to navigate the length of his kitchen counters to vacate that section of his open living space so that he then has a straight shot for his grey door.

As Soren steps out of his kitchen area a third set of bangs on the door ring out. Why people insist on knocking when he has a doorbell he will never know. And it works. He checks it, weekly, just to make sure there isn’t good reason not to use it. And there isn’t.

It just seems that for some reason certain people in this world insist on knocking instead of pressing a single button. It’s infuriating, perhaps irrationally so, and yet there is no doubt that the third series of knocks was definitely quicker and harder than those that came before them.  That signals to Soren that whoever this is must be in a hurry and so deems whatever they have to say important. The engineer will be the judge of that, he thinks as he ensures his robe is wrapped tight and properly tied so not to expose any part of himself to someone unwittingly. It isn’t Soren’s style. In fact, he doesn’t understand how that is a style, but it is. It had been his roommates in college. Dennis, he thinks his name was. Strange guy from what little Soren still recalls of him. Whatever became of Dennis after college Soren hasn’t a clue. He knows he sort of passed. Or at least he thinks that’s right. The details are fuzzy at best. Soren rarely retains anything that isn’t needed, unless it’s for his job. It explains why he lives alone.

The reality is he just isn’t interested in people, for the most part. There have been exceptions. But those exceptions have usually been interesting people. Some of which had resulted in relationships, personal not professional, but many had not.

A fourth set of knocks, if the pounding on his door can be called knocks, come as Soren is within a couple metres of his door. As a result of the pounding, frantic and impatient as it is, Soren announces, “I’m coming. Give me a second.”

The engineer hopes that his words are all that will be necessary to stop another, perhaps even more severe, bashing on his door. After all, it’s still relatively early, and Soren doesn’t want trouble with neighbours. People are unpredictable and when you live in a block like this there is no telling who may or may not develop a grudge over the smallest and stupidest of things, like someone banging on your neighbour’s apartment door.

Soren runs through his itinerary just to make sure but still concludes that he isn’t expecting anyone. That means this person is likely not one of the few people he knows. It certainly won’t be a co-worker as he hasn’t told any of them where he lives exactly. The general area yes he’s told them, it would be weird if he didn’t, but no explicit details. At least not any that might lead them to his door, or building for that matter.

Just as Soren reaches the door and starts to outstretch his arm to grab a hold of the handle, release the lock and pull it open to see what and who is the cause of this interruption, his door explodes into slivers of irregular shaped matter. His apartment door not being made of wood, but made to look as though it is, means that the pieces cannot be called splinters. Chunks would be more appropriate if there was enough left of them that they could constitute as chunks.

Soren’s eyes go wide as he is flung backward, having been torn off his feet. His body sent hurling several metres across his open plan apartment.

As he flies through the air, his feet barely more than five centimetres off the floor; he gets a perfect view of three hooded figures bursting through the remnants of his doorway with weapons in hand. Such figures are usually a sign of planetary authorities. But police have badges, insignia, identifying markings. This trio do not. Soren doesn’t understand at first and then his brain catches up. This is an abduction. It has to be. He gasps but his gasp is cut short as he slams, for the second time, into the floor of his apartment. Except this impact is much more severe than the one caused by gravity when he’d fallen the thirty five centimetres out of his bed this morning following a nightmare he now cannot remember anything about. In fact, he can’t even be sure it was a nightmare. A remnant of feeling he has tells him that is what it was but there is nothing else there. He could be quite easily be wrong he knows. Such things are often the case when it comes to sleep. Nothing is certain. It’s subjective. Made up of what little snippets you remember. And none of those snippets follow on from one to another. They’re like fast cuts except they tell no story, and leave you with more questions than you had before them and offer absolutely no answers to boot.

Still, the pain from the impact is real and Soren cradles his elbow, which at this moment seems to have suffered the brunt of the impact. At least that is what is eliciting the most severe pain at this present second.

The trio of hooded shapes surround the engineer as he sits semi-upright on his floor surrounded by shards of his apartment door. The armed figures on either side of the engineer pay him little attention as they scan their surroundings, weapons raised and ready.

“Who are you?” Soren manages to demand before gulping down some of the pain so he doesn’t vocalise it or allow it to creep into anything else he may deem necessary to say.

As the words finish leaving the engineer’s lips the hooded figure facing him drops into a squat. His weapon, a pistol, is still in hand. It isn’t aimed or raised. Instead, it hangs limply, barrel pointed toward the floor of Soren’s apartment.

The hooded figure, whose ice blue eyes are the only thing visible of his face, sniffs once but offers no reply.

“Secure.” The two other hooded figures declare in unison without having moved from their respective positions, or changed stances.

Soren doesn’t understand how they can, without checking, declare that the apartment is secure. Yet, he wouldn’t argue with their conclusion either. Soren lives alone. He has for the last couple years. Which also happens to be only a couple of weeks less than he’s lived in this apartment.

“I have no money. I’m just…” Soren begins but never finishes his panic fuelled statement as the hooded figure staring intently at him interjects, cutting him off.

“You’re Soren Jameson, correct?” The ice blue eyed man says with a toneless voice.

“I… What is this about?” Soren says unwilling to confirm until his own questions have been answered.

“Always have to do it the hard way.” The toneless male voice says as he looks toward the ceiling and shakes his head.

“He…” Soren goes to shout for help, for aid, for assistance, for a saviour.

In that second that it takes Soren to begin his cry for help the toneless hooded man with ice blue eyes raises his gun and manages to squeeze the trigger once.

A bullet explodes out the long, wide barrel of the gun with its added compensator and cross the barely metre distance to Soren’s head. The engineer feels nothing. His world simply goes black.

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