Quarantine

Quarantine

Several months ago, the characters in my RPG group undertook a mission that involved exposure to a dangerous black goo. They were unfamiliar with it, at the time, and weren’t aware of the full extent of its effects, but it did force them to cut a huge hole in one of their ships that they are still trying to repair. (Oops!) As a result of the incident, they all had to spend a week in quarantine, to make sure they didn’t spread the dangerous goo to their home base.

As you can imagine, Domerin doesn’t deal well with confined spaces and forced, close company. So he kind of drove the other characters a bit bonkers. I wrote this little scene to show what it was like from his perspective, and offer a bit of insight as to why he turned out to be such a pain in the ass during the ordeal.
. . .

Seven paces. That’s all it took to move from one end of the room to the other. Then he had to pivot sharply and head back in the opposite direction. Granted, he was tall and his strides were long. But with four bunks to a room, that wasn’t a lot of living space. Luckily none of his roommates were present at the moment; probably sick of watching him pace like a caged animal waiting for the door to open so he could lunge at his keepers.

Domerin hated confined spaces in a way he couldn’t articulate. It wasn’t claustrophobia. He’d never been uncomfortable in the cockpit of a shuttle, a space much smaller than this. It wasn’t being enclosed that troubled him. It was the restriction. In the cold void of space, there was nowhere else to go. But this facility was much larger than the portion to which they had been resigned, and it was the desperate longing to get beyond the barred doors that drove him into near constant motion. That, or the effort of containing it.

A man like him could go mad in a matter of hours in a situation like this one. And it had already been three days.

He understood the reason they had to be here. The logic was perfectly sound. They had been exposed to the black goo. And though he didn’t know exactly what it did when it got hold of someone, he’d seen enough to know it was bad. World-ending bad. Domerin wasn’t arrogant or reckless enough to put his own comfort above the safety of thousands of others.

But logic didn’t keep his heart from racing, didn’t keep the cold sweat from breaking out on his skin whenever he looked at one of the airlocks. Or worse, when the doctors came through in their bio suits to jab him and his friends with needles, insisting they needed regular blood samples to make sure they were all clean. Logic didn’t cut it when the fight response was telegraphed into your veins by long years of bitter experience.

The hiss of the door opening interrupted his turn. Giana met him in the middle of the room, blocking his path forward. He could have side-stepped her and moved on; the room wasn’t that small, but the hard look in her eyes stopped him dead in his tracks.

“You need to stop,” Giana announced. There was a hard edge to her tone, but it wasn’t what gave Domerin pause. It was the dark tinge of her eyes, as if the edges had turned to crystal, ready to pierce his flesh if he dared to disobey.

He was familiar enough with his old friend’s moods to realize that she wasn’t above wrestling him to the ground and forcing him to submit if he didn’t give her what she wanted. And while he was fairly confident it was a fight he could win, it wouldn’t gain him any favor with the rest of their companions. And he was already running low on their grace, given his behavior for the last two days.

“And do what instead?” he replied, infusing his voice with an equally hard edge.

But Giana knew him better than the rest. Enough to see through his concrete facade, even if it was only a glimpse. “Come and play a game with us. Eddie wants another shot at Monopoly.”

Domerin rolled his eyes. Whoever had invented that game was worse than the elders of his home planet. It was almost as if it had been tailor made for them. The rules seemed to be get as much money as possible and use it to oppress everyone else. Except that Eddie had such a gift for negotiation, he somehow managed to return from the brink of bankruptcy three times before Domerin had finally lost his patience with the last game.

“Of course he does. But we just played it yesterday.”

“Well, tried to.” Giana snorted, shooting him another acid look. “Maybe today we’ll actually get to finish.”

“Fat chance,” Domerin hissed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “The only way to lose that game seems to be getting shot in the head.” And the medical staff had been thorough when it came to stripping them of anything that could be used as a weapon.

“Look, if you have to quit this time, just walk away instead of flipping the table.”

Domerin sighed, a long, drawn-out sound that often edged close to a growl. It was childish. He didn’t need to be told. He was acting like a petulant toddler who didn’t want to follow mom and dad’s rules.

But how could he make her understand? How did he explain that when he closed his eyes, it wasn’t the smooth arches of Moon Base’s dome that he saw, but the sleek, dark metal of an older facility. That looking at the airlocks reminded him of a series of red-marked doors proclaiming the area beyond was for authorized personnel only or danger, under maintenance or whatever other excuse they thought would keep people from trying to venture within. Not that trying did any good; all those doors had been locked with keypads and bio sensors, ensuring the experiments stayed right where the investors wanted them.

It was how the Ruby Daggers had contained the participants in their bionics program while still giving them some semblance of normality. And later, when he had become a full-fledged member of their elite strike force, it hadn’t been much better. Different labels on the doors, but it had all been the same cage, the same grand illusion wrapped in the same flimsy paper.

He couldn’t find the words, so he’d have to play the damn game.

*   *   *

The pain was quickly growing unbearable. The effects were getting difficult to hide. He could probably explain the shakes as momentary, inconsequential. But it was getting harder not to wince, or bend double while he clamped a white-knuckled grip on the nearest object. Pretty soon he’d be writhing on his bunk, and that was the last thing he wanted these people to see. It was bad enough that he could hardly sleep, bad enough that he fell asleep whenever he could sneak off alone for half an hour. Everyone in here was already sick of him.

It was the inactivity that did it. His muscles needed motion to silence the flaming static generated by his bionics. Not constant motion, but far more than he could get in a space this confined. He could circle their quarantine enclosure in three minutes. And the walking didn’t do anything for his arm. The fingers on his right hand burned so badly, he may as well have set them on a hot stove this morning. If they had one.

He couldn’t keep pacing anyway. It drove everyone else nuts. But even when he did office work at home, he didn’t sit this many hours a day. He couldn’t.

Domerin was starting to look forward to the rare moments when Pantriss pressed her head and face to the window of their enclosure, staring longingly at their activities as if she wished she’d been exposed right along with them. It offered a few moments of respite where no one was paying attention, a few moments to let the pain swallow him before he had to suppress it again.

He felt like a swimmer stranded in the middle of an ocean. There wasn’t anything dangerous lurking in the water, but the waves were rough and choppy. The effort he expended to keep his head above water exhausted him, but the waves grew ever larger, forcing him to spend more and more effort just to keep his head high enough to breathe.

He couldn’t wear that weakness on his sleeve. Not in front of a group of mercenaries that respected him.

But he couldn’t stay in the bathroom much longer. Huddling over the sink, clutching its edges while his arms and legs trembled didn’t do him much good. He could splash his face with cold water, erase all sign of the sweat. But he couldn’t hide the ashen quality of his skin or the growing depth of his distraction.

They still had three more days before they could hope to be let out. Three more days of hell, both internal and external. At this rate, he’d never survive.

He flushed the toilet, just in case someone was listening. Splashed cool water on his face and thumbed the lock release. He tried to make sure he looked steady when he stepped into the hallway, but he was glad there was no one waiting just outside. The corridor was short, but at least it gave him more time to compose himself.

“Hey, Domerin,” Sailenn’s soft voice nearly made him leap out of his skin. “You missed mail delivery.” He pushed a small box across the table with one fur-covered hand.

“Thanks,” Domerin replied, hoping his smile didn’t look as thin as it felt. He snatched the box from the table quickly, hoping Sailenn’s keen eyes wouldn’t note the way his fingers shook when he grasped it. If he did, at least he didn’t say anything.

The label was written in Robin’s hand. The box was light, but bigger than most of the ones that made it through screening. What had she convinced them to smuggle in for him? A nail file so he could spend the next three days trying to escape his prison?

No one seemed to notice when he scurried off to his empty bunk room to open it. They were all too engrossed in other things. Eddie seemed to be expressing the merits of his infamous gold fish plan while Giana once again rolled her eyes and huffed rather than telling him how she really felt about the whole fiasco. Freun was humming softly to herself, a soothing sound that smothered Domerin’s growing urge to strangle someone – anyone – just so something would happen. Rhuk’s claws clicked and clacked against whatever board game he was setting up now, while Ves chattered about the rules.

The door to his bunk muffled it all slightly, turning it all into a distant, background buzz.

The box had already been opened, but that didn’t surprise him. The security team needed to know what they were sending in here. Standard procedure and all that rot.

There were two small vials tucked into the base of the box along with the hypospray canister. A small piece of paper had been set on top. The note was written in Robin’s hand.

I got special permission to send you these. Don’t ask how much red tape I had to jump through. But use them wisely. PS: You really need to start carrying these stress balls with you if you’re going to stay away so much.

Domerin glanced first at the vials. Morphine. Half the dose he used to knock himself out back home on the bad days. But coupled with the pain killers already released by his bionics, it should be enough to get him through the next few days.

Gods bless his daughter and her endless foresight.

He slid one of the vials into the hypospray canister and pressed it to a vein in his elbow, the motion so practiced it took a fraction of a second to find a vein. The relief wasn’t immediate; it took a few minutes for the drug to permeate his body, but a sense of relief washed over him. Maybe he could make himself slightly more bearable for the next few hours.

He tucked the remaining vial and the hypospray canister into the private cubby beside his bed, glad he had something he could lock to keep others from snooping. It didn’t hurt to be careful, especially with Eddie as a roommate.

He took the red stress ball from the box before he locked it away, letting it slide across the fingers of his right hand the way a street magician might. It was going to take a couple of hours to work sensation back into them, but it was better than gritting his teeth to endure. At least no one was likely to ask too many questions about something like this, not while they were all shut up and half losing their minds from boredom.

In any case, he was already mentally composing the letter of apology he was going to have to send these people when they got out of here. Any other group of people would no doubt have declared him forever barred from their company by the second day of being locked in here with him.

But the Immortals were no ordinary group of people. They weren’t even an ordinary group of mercenaries. For them, incidents like this were just a typical Tuesday. And if he was honest with himself, it was one of the reasons he liked them so much, though he wasn’t about to admit it out loud.

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