Ice In The Veins

Soren is on-site at the Harbourne Development. It’s a complex of apartment buildings meant to serve as accommodation for some of the newer residents of Hera’s second city, Verity. Soren doesn’t go to site often anymore. But for some reason there’s a problem with the sewer configuration the development company hired to carry out the work sold and installed. It’s pretty common fare to be honest. A lot of these companies are cowboys dressed up as respectable business, but they offer low prices and many developers use them to further maximise the already substantial profits they’ll make on each unit.

Soren isn’t the first of his companies’ people on-site but having had the brief of the problem, which is still fresh in his mind, he gets straight to work. The only positive he noted on his stride to his assigned position is that Viktor, a long standing and competent colleague of his, is doing checks and adjustments in the section with him. The engineer feels a little relief at that seeing as the last thing he wants is to be lumbered with a rookie who he needs to explain everything from wiping his nose to what tools they should be using for the job. With Viktor there is no danger of that. The guy gets on with his work and does it well. At least that has been Soren’s experience of the aging, white haired man dressed in the old colours of their employer, Farini Engineering and Solutions Ltd. They call it FEAS seeing as they are the companies’ initials. It isn’t official, not in any way, but it’s a damn sight easier than keep saying the full name all the time. Plus everyone knows who they’re referring to, or at least they nod as if they do, and that is good enough for him.

However, Soren expects the corporate suits hate it, well tough. He couldn’t give a hoot what they hate, but he does wonder why they are back on this site. He could have sworn they finished this job years ago. Hell, Viktor retired soon after. He remembers the retirement do. It doesn’t make a lot of sense but a job’s a job. He’s here. He has work to do and so come hell or high water he will do it. Strange expression, he thinks as he studies the section of piping beneath his feet according to the ground penetration scan that is being projected as a holographic representation on the diagnostic bench before him.

For some reason Soren wonders if Viktor can remember the days of having to actually get knee, or even waist, deep in the job instead of doing it from a bench like they do now. Why such a thought crosses his mind he cannot say seeing as there is no way Viktor is that old. So why did I think he might be? He doesn’t know. It’s the sort of thought he might have had as a youth, a barely out of teens worker, but his knowledge is far greater than that. However, that would line up with when he thought they’d finished this job. He must be wrong. Time gets skewed when all you do is stare at these damn diagnostic tables all day.

So as not to waste any more time than he already has with pointless thoughts, Soren puts the redundant data out of his head and focuses solely on the bench and his work. Hours pass during which Soren performs three dozen alterations, and those are just the ones he can recall, as well as complete rebuilds of some sections and perform several failure fixes. Now though his previously brisk pace has ground to complete halt as he studies a section of sewer that completely flummoxes him.

It makes no sense what has been done here, is the only thought that goes through his head. He can think of nothing else and that frustrates him even if he is entirely correct to have reached such a stubbornly persistent conclusion.

However correct it might be it isn’t going to aid him in fixing the shambolic implementation of this sewer system.  The installers so dim-witted it seems they believed that implementing a sewage system without a vacuum pulse to flush the tubes was appropriate. How they came to such conclusion when gravity is present he will never know. Unless they were used to working on planetary stations where this might, and only might, work. Yet while he understands the issue he cannot discern a fix for it, given the limited space and need for consist evacuation of the pipes to the condenser unit some sixteen metres away.

Soren scratches his head, feeling the prickly fibres of his closely cropped hair scratch at the tips of the flesh on his first three fingers. He can hear the sound of the scratching reverberating in his head. He dwells on the sound as if he hopes that it will be enough of a distraction, even though it’s duration is short, to result in some epiphany that might allow him to push past this obstacle and get this work done without him having to spend half the night finishing this section. Sure the overtime will pay well but the six foot tall engineer would rather get an early night before starting on the next section. Even more when you consider that diagnostic benches have a tendency to cause migraines that if not mitigated can lead to health and safety sign-offs that might impact Soren’s career. After all, his career, his vocation, are all that he has. It’s his life, what drives him forward, why he exists. At least it is in his opinion anyway, and he loves his job. The complexity of it, the design, the originality and how no problem can ever be solved the same way twice due to differing requirements and parameters.

Soren couldn’t do another job. He’d find it boring, unfulfilling. Thankfully he doesn’t have to worry about that. This is his job, his life and he’ll do it until he no longer can. It’ll be a long time before that happens.

But with all the distraction and meanderings he still hasn’t a clue as to where he can go with his current conundrum. His only option is to bounce ideas and for that he needs someone of comparable intelligence. Thankfully, just the man is present in his section, Viktor, and so Soren, without a moment of hesitation, does an about turn and strides calmly back the way he came until Viktor comes into view.

From what Soren can see the aging engineer hasn’t moved an inch, at least compared to what Soren recalls when he passed him earlier.

Ever the diligent worker, Viktor is still deep in contemplation as he studies the bench and whatever read-out it is giving him. Only the assigned worker for that station is able to see the holographic projection, for security purposes. After all, you don’t want any Tom, Dick or Harry coming along and messing with a system that could, theoretically, be manipulated into creating an underground bomb of significant magnitude.

“Viktor, I have a problem and could do with your expertise to bounce some ideas off of.” Soren announces as he continues to stride toward the aging man who has his back to him.

Seconds pass without a reply. Soren’s brow furrows with a mixture of confusion and frustration but he continues to stride toward the man, getting ever closer, and assumes the aging engineer simply didn’t hear him. For that reason Soren announces once more, “Viktor, I could do with your opinion on a few alterations I have regarding an issue at my end.”

Still, Soren gets no reply. He must have heard me, he says to himself as he crosses the threshold of being within only a couple metres of the aging man.

Soren’s amber eyes search and probe at Viktor as he stands before him until he realises that the engineer hasn’t moved in any way. Not his hands, his arms, legs, anything. It’s like he’s a statue rooted to the spot and frozen forever in the pose he is in. It makes no sense but a number of thoughts shoot through his head. The worst of those thoughts is that the old engineer has succumbed on the job. If that is the case then it’ll be the first time Soren has experienced such a travesty first hand. He’s heard tales of other older engineers who would died on the job while on their feet and in place, but he never considered he might experience it or that Viktor might be one it would happen to.

Suddenly, Soren feels his heart in his throat. It stops him from saying anything else out loud. Instead, he raises his arm. He doesn’t get far with his attempt. Perhaps about half way before he stops, feeling hesitation wind its way around his arm as though it refuses to let him perform the action he wishes to. And that is where his arm stays as Soren argues internally with himself, attempting to regain control of his arm through the use of logical arguments, chiefly that he must check on the aging engineer before him to be sure before jumping to conclusions and making a fool of himself.

By the time he achieves his goal and wins the argument against himself his arm feels heavy from being held suspended in place. Minutes have passed but as he wills his arm to move it complies, so Soren wastes no time on bringing his arm up and then resting his hand on the older man’s shoulder.

“Viktor.” Soren hears himself say without realising at first that it is him who has said it.

Soren’s hand grips Viktor’s right shoulder but the amber eyed engineer gets no reply. In that moment Soren becomes sure Viktor has succumbed on duty. A lump forms in his throat quickly. He is forced to swallow before he’ll have any hope of saying another word. Yet, even with the lump gone Soren cannot bring himself to say a thing. Instead, he pulls back on Viktor’s shoulder in hopes of turning the man, and turn he does.

Soren is fearful of what he might find until he catches a glimpse of the man’s face. Immediately he pauses and loosens his grip. In reply Viktor’s body turns back the way it came slightly, though at least this time the pause is a choice all of Soren’s own making.

He blinks several times sure that his eyes must have been deceiving him as it looked like Viktor had no face. Some time passes during which Soren concludes he must have imagined the sight. Still, he knows he must be still check on Viktor to be sure he has succumbed, even though it seems sure. His eyes narrow and then slowly he resumes the turning of Viktor.

As the aging engineers face comes into full view Soren takes a sharp inward breath. At the same moment his eyes go wide as he has confirmed exactly what he thought he’d glimpsed before his pause, Viktor has no face. Soren doesn’t understand but begins to shake his head repeatedly from side to side unable to accept what his eyes are telling him are true, while his bottom lip quivers silently.

Soren wants to speak but he can’t bring himself to. The reasons for his continued silence are lost to him, and then Viktor lurches forward. The old engineers’ arms suddenly raised and outstretched toward Soren who shrieks and jumps back. His retreat isn’t enough to evade Viktor’s hands as they wrap themselves around Soren’s throat while simultaneously pushing him backward with all the faceless man’s might.

Soren stumbles as a result and feels himself fall while the grip continues to tighten around his throat. Before long Soren’s arms start to flail as he makes vain and desperate attempts to break the lock on his neck that is squeezing the life out of him. Words are lost to him. He cannot speak. Gurgles and choked off cries are all that leak from between his lips as he thrashes about completely oblivious to the fact that he is no longer falling but in fact lying in an open cryo pod.

Alas, Soren’s vision is too narrow for him to make out his surroundings. The pain now so severe that he scrunches his eyes closed. As he does the pressure on his throat evaporates. Soren doesn’t understand but wastes no time as he unfurls his eyelids so that his eyes are open once more. To his surprise his view has entirely changed. It takes him a short while to realise that he is trapped inside a cryo pod. Panic fills him as he recalls how his mother died when he was a boy. Screams leap from his mouth, his neck still feeling raw from the crushing force that had been exerted upon it. As a result his screams are ragged and wheezing. Yet, for all the pain the cries cause him he does not stop. Rather, he ignores the pain and somehow manages to raise his arms and begin pounding his tightly clenched fists on the inside of the cryo pod. It should be impossible for him to have gotten his arms up like he has and yet somehow he’s managed it. He does not consider how. He is filled with too much panic to think rationally as he screams silently and alone into the emptiness of the darkness outside the brightly illuminated interior of the cryo pod.

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