Creeping Death

“Why does my head hurt so bad?” Marius groans as he feels the most unrelenting pounding he has ever experienced in all his thirty five years of life. Well, thirty five years if you exclude time spent in cryogenic pods.

His eyes are closed but he doesn’t get the feeling there is much light available beyond his eyelids. If there were then he’d be able to see colours on his eyelids to signify that light is trying to get to his pupils.

Marius can’t say whether that’s a positive thing or not. Much like he can’t say whether the silence he hears is good or not. So he just lies there. Except as the seconds tick by he realises he isn’t lying on his back, he should be, but he is becoming ever more aware that he is pitched forward. He groans again, this time with confusion, and then attempts to turn his head. He can’t say why for sure. It’s just a reaction. A need he feels he must perform. But as he does he quickly discovers that he can’t as his head slams off what can only be the interior of the pod. “What the…” He groans in the seconds before he risks peeling back one eyelid to survey what the hell is going on. Trouble is everything is dark and Marius means everything. There is no light. At least not within his limited view through the pretty narrow section of the domed lid of the cryogenics pod which is opaque. He groans, frustrated and tries to push his head back to rest. However, his head never makes contact with anything except for air. His face twists into a puzzled expression before he wonders if this is some kind of dream. “Shitty dream if it is.” He says to himself out loud. He hadn’t intended to vocalise those words but it’s too late now and from the silence he gets in response he can only conclude that he’s alone. Still, he needs to know what is going on. If he is dreaming then he needs to get it over with and move onto the next. If this is real then he needs answers. Not that he’s great at getting answers, seeing as he never did learn why a former mercenary, him, was chosen to be a part of a colony establishment program. Not for lack of asking and digging into any and all places he could however. He did plenty of that but never found a thing. That on its own was suspicious and might have made him refuse if it was not for the sizable bonus payments he was given to stop whatever investigation he was doing. They, a couple suits, assured he would find nothing untoward. But who pays triple for a washed up merc to stop digging? The answer is no one unless they have something to hide. Yet, he wasn’t about to pass on pay like that and seeing as he’d found the square root of jack all, he agreed. But they had to pay upfront, before he boarded the Dorian. To his surprise they agreed and paid him there and then. A week later he boarded the starship and ever since he’s been in cryo on the Dorian Three as it hurtles its way across the galaxy.

For him being in cryo has been no different than getting any normal nights rest, but for everyone not on this colony ship, or any of others that regularly leave colonised worlds, it’s been seven years.

What does that have to do with anything right now? He asks himself. The irritated snarky reply he issues to himself mentally is: because it helps to retread the time up until entering cryo to wake up quicker. He hates that his head is arguing with him right now. It’ll stop its antagonism before long, he knows. His subconscious is just pissed that it won’t be in control of everything now that he’s awake again.

Apparently, it’s a common occurrence for those who spend long periods in cryo. He hadn’t known that and he’d served as an infantry gunner for thirteen years and had to drop in and out of cryo for op transits. He should have known the corps would never tell him the truth. They hadn’t from the day they’d roped him into signing up to the day he told them to shove their hypocritical bullshit up their asses. He’d enjoyed that day. A smile splits across his face as he recalls that day exposing some of his white teeth below, as well as a titanium one. He regrets getting a metal tooth now because he sets off every metal detector in the universe whenever he travels. Except when he got aboard the Dorian that is, as there were no such checks before he boarded this boat. That would have been pointless.

Finally, Marius opens his other eye. It too sees nothing but darkness, though he will admit that it helps give him better perspective now that nearly half of his vision isn’t filled by the side of his nose when he looks left.

With his two eyes open he uses them to probe at the darkness, his eyes working semi-independently as a result of him having been a pilot for a couple years when he first quit the corps. He soon concludes that he is definitely leaning forward but is also on his side at the same time. He knows that isn’t right in the slightest and grumbles to himself in a low growl that echoes in his ears. An echo? Well that makes no sense, he thinks. Cryo tombs, as he calls them, don’t have echoes. They’re too small, too well lined, especially these ones with all the padding they have glued inside them. So the only way there can be an echo is… He laughs, more a cackle really, and then tells himself that he must definitely be dreaming as there is no way his tomb is open and he’s outside of it. Those things simply don’t work like that. Not unless they get cleaved in two and Marius has never seen that happen. And he’s seen them get hit by rotor blades, bullets, shells, hell even a vehicle once or twice.

Well, he thinks with a shrug, it’s a dream and I don’t see the point in it, so we might as well hurry up and get it over with. With that decided he tries to move by first bracing his hands against the pod lid before him and then once they’re in place to pushes off the lid. His actions have the desired effect as the distance between the pod lid and Marius’ face widens until all of a sudden he hears, “Hey, I think there’s someone moving over here!”

Marius pauses confused. What? Moving. Of course I’m moving. Why wouldn’t I be moving? Oh right, dream. Things don’t make proper sense. Like why I found myself here and there was no beginning. There’s never a beginning. At least there never has been for me, he says in his head.

Several voices continue to chatter away in the background for a bit. Marius ignores them, though he can hear that they are getting closer. However, he makes no attempt to call to them. Then again they aren’t calling to him either. Definitely has to be a dream. Only in a dream would people talk about you and not too you. It’s a sucky dream. Maybe it’s supposed to be a nightmare. Ah who cares, they’re all the same to me, ways of passing time until I can actually wake up and start moving again. Suddenly, Marius’ back begins to press against something cold. Confused, he tries to work out what it is but can’t, so returns to attempting to push against it and dislodge whatever it is that is in his way. He knows it’s not a single object, but wouldn’t be able to explain how he knows that exactly.

Several pushes later and Marius has to admit he’s made no progress. I wish these dream people would hurry up and get here, the merc thinks exasperated by the lack of progress. And here I was hoping to get through this dream in a couple minutes and then move on with blissful ignorance. He sighs, irritated, and then knowing his patience is thin redoubles his efforts. This time, this push, he feels some movement. A smirk splits across his face not that he or anyone else would be able to see it in this darkness which he has gotten so accustomed to he had does not even consider the presence of anymore.

Now that he’s made himself acutely aware of it he wonders why it’s still dark and why no one has turned the lights on? Maybe in the dream the powers out, he says answering himself. Oh great, one of those lame; the lights are out cause there out and it’ll never be explained but is supposed to give atmosphere and tension. Marius rolls his eyes at the cliché of it all and then tries to think of what could have been the trigger for the basis of this dream. He doesn’t know. He didn’t watch anything before he left. He rarely watches anything truth be told. It’s all shit, to him. Boring, repetitive and nothing like how things actually work or pan out. If life worked like fiction then he’d be loaded, before he took a bribe and this job, have a big house, sweet cycle, a couple hot ex-modelstars and a thriving business with him as the CEO of some corporate empire. He has none of that. That is reality. He quit the corps; fell from one bad job to another. Sometimes he’d provided security to lowlifes and wannabe gangster types with spines made of marshmallow until he started doing proper merc work. It paid but not what anyone would consider well, and even most of those jobs boiled down to shoot some scumshit from several miles away while some younger more brainless hombres ran around making a scene with guns and death to hide the fact that a big bad was now missing two thirds of his once smug dictatorial head.

Enough reminiscing, you were making progress! “Oh shit, yeah I was!” Marius blurts again out loud without meaning too. Dumb dream. Shut up and push! He hears himself think as his brain, or the dream version of it, attempts to keep him on task. And with that he does exactly as his dream brain demands and returns to pushing. The whatever at his back begins to shift, slowly, once more but his wrists are tired now, as are his arms which are beginning to shake. Stop being a pussy, he screams to himself and with a loud grunt of effort manages to double his progress.

“Stop! Stop! Stop! If you push anymore you’ll bring the whole lot down on you.”

“Whole lot of what?” Marius spits annoyed at whoever it is that is the owner of the voice that has just given him an order.

Marius takes few orders these days. Few people dare once they get a look at him. This is a dream remember? Oh yeah.

“You have a pile of girders and other debris on you. If we don’t move some of it first and you dislodge it, it could crush you like a pancake.” The voice that Marius guesses belongs to a woman, though he will admit it can sometimes be difficult to be sure, says explaining very little that he couldn’t already infer himself.

“So why don’t I just do that, let it crush me and move onto the next dream?” Marius accidentally mutters out loud, instead of in his head where he meant to keep such a statement.

“Dream? This isn’t a…Oh God; you think you’re still asleep in a cryo pod. No. No don’t do that. You are not dreaming. I swear.” The voice that Marius thinks is a woman’s says sounding panicked and frantic.

He hasn’t a clue what she, if the owner of this voice is a she, looks like but he can just imagine a frantic woman flapping her arms about uselessly. It brings a smile to his face, even though many would think him a douche for the mental image, but he really couldn’t give a fuck. Women use men as much as men use women and some of those women believe that men are only good for a few things and nothing else. Well, in his eyes he doesn’t just think women only have limited uses, he believes it, wholeheartedly. Such an attitude, unsurprisingly, has got him slapped, kicked and covered in some liquid or another more times than most men would be willing to admit. But Marius isn’t like most men. He’s a dinosaur. Not in the literal sense. Just in the sense that his way of thinking and acting is very outdated, which in the later part of the twenty second century is especially shocking to those who are forced to suffer or witness it.

“Prove it.” Marius fires back still sure this is a dream.

His arms will soon fail, and he knows it, regardless of whether he does or does not go through with continuing to move the apparent debris on top of him.

“What…How am I…Why would you…” The voice Marius is convinced is female now splutters while he bursts into gut rumbling laughter.

“This isn’t funny! And I can’t prove it right now. You just have to trust me.” The voice roars before saying something Marius doesn’t quite catch to what he guesses must be whoever else is supposedly out there to help.

“I don’t trust anyone. It’s how I’m alive.” Marius claims arrogantly as he pushes against whatever is at his back which this person, it’s easier for him to call them that then anything else, claims is debris just a little to see what happens.

“Then I’m surprised you’ve lived this long. Stop! Cause guess what? The only way you’re getting out of there is with help. Our help.” The voice fires back angrily.

Marius relents. Not because he feels like listening but because his arms can’t take the strain anymore. They don’t fail. Not quite. Rather, he manages to relax them and lower himself back into roughly the same position he’d been in to begin with. The pile of debris, as it is claimed to be, slowly having sagged back into place.

“Good. You listened at last.” The voice spits exasperated before issuing orders to a number of unknown helpers that must be with them and prepared to help.

Marius could say a lot of things but settles on staying quiet. If only the same could be said for the world around him, which is filled with the clanging of metal and the sound of panting as people exert effort overturning the shrapnel and other detritus between them and Marius. He doubts any of it is as difficult as they’re making it sound but he holds his tongue.

Unfortunately, by the time the clanging, banging, groaning, swearing and heavy breathing finally comes to an end five minutes later, Marius is itching to exercise his tongue with barbed sarcastic remarks. But he doesn’t get the chance as just as he is about to say something the voice calls, “We’ve removed all we can. Think you can push?”

“Now you want me to push? I thought pushing was bad and that you and your friends were going to dig in and save me.” Marius’ words drip thick with sarcasm as well as a decent sprinkle of mocking.

“Just shut the fuck up and push. You can be a dickhead once you’re free.” The voice replies before muttering at a volume they clearly didn’t think Marius would be able to hear, “If you don’t kill yourself, which I kinda hope you do you ungrateful shit.”

Marius begins to chuckle, loudly, as he braces his arms against the cryo tomb lid for what is now the second time. However, he doesn’t immediately begin to push like he did the first time. Rather, this time he tests to see if his strength will hold. He didn’t have to test his arms the first time seeing as prior to that he hadn’t been exerted himself, but now that he has, and did so almost to the point of failure, he has to know he isn’t about to tear something. His tests don’t last long, seconds in total, but at the conclusion of them he is pretty confident his arms will hold and so he begins to push.

Instantly, Marius has to admit that the weight at his back is significantly lighter than it had been on his previous attempts. Maybe I will congratulate my saviours, ha, after all, he thinks as he continues to push.

“Grab that. Pull it off.” A voice, this one definitely male, urges.

If they do, Marius can’t say he feels any sort of decrease in the weight he’s trying to shift, and then suddenly there is an enormous bang. The bang is the result of a large percentage of the debris falling away now that it is been dislodged from the pieces that it has been tangled up with.

Marius exhales deeply. He’s exhausted but feels cool air envelope him as he rolls over onto his back to rest his very weary arms. They’re spent and throb angrily as he lies there resting them.

“Stay still.” A voice says a couple seconds before a bright shining light is beamed into one of his eyes.

The merc winces in response to the sudden brightness and slightly turns his head, but makes no attempt to pull away as his lip curls and the light shifts to his other eye. The first still washed out and sprinkled with dazzling specks that twinkle merrily but which he cannot stand and so as soon as the light withdraws completely result in him rubbing at both eyes furiously in hopes of dispelling them.

“He’s good. Surprisingly.” One of the voices, he thinks but hasn’t a clue to be honest, mutters prior to him feeling a presence drop to his side. Marius guesses it’s likely the owner of the voice he was sure was a woman and assumes they are now squatting next to him.

“Name and purpose?” The voice, which suggests Marius has guessed right, queries closer to his ear than he expected.

“Marius…Merc.” Marius replies before shaking his head once, opening his eyes to assess how many specks are still in them, and then when he discovers it’s better than he expected but still too many for his liking sees him blink rapidly several times before attempting to turn toward the source of the voice.

“Oh shit.” Are the next words out of Marius’ mouth as he finds himself looking up at the face of a woman with one green eye and one brown, a slender face marred with cuts and bruises, as well as brown hair pulled back in ponytail. Though, it is not the sight of the woman that Marius has cursed at. No, it’s the view of what’s above her as he looks up that he’s cursed at as what his eyes can see shouldn’t be present seeing as the sight is the deck of the cryo suite that he should be on, but clearly isn’t.

“Well…we have a merc at least. And he certainly has a mouth on him” The woman mutters sounding incredibly disappointed.

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