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The Tears of Things – Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – Helen

    The Weapon was angry. Helen watched it stalk the hall through the dining room’s open door, wondering if she would need to place a body or two in the decomposition tank. This was not a good start to their trip.
    <Marilyn::Helen: Is it safe to come out yet?>
    <Helen::Marilyn: Just stay in the sanitary room.>
    <Marilyn::Helen: Is the Weapon under your control or not?>
    <Helen::Marilyn (-1): No one has died yet.>
    <Marilyn::Helen: Send it away.>
    <Helen::Marilyn (-2): Brilliant advice. Too bad my Weapon doesn’t message.>
    There was movement in the dining room behind her. Andy stood at her shoulder again. <Helen: Get away from the door.>
    <Andy: It’s not going after Marilyn, is it?>
    Helen shook her head. She wasn’t that lucky. <Helen: You should worry about yourself. You started this.>
    <Andy: Don’t blame this on me! You were the one who said we should sedate him!>
    <Helen: Whose idea was it to hit the man?>
    <Andy: He bit me!>
    <Helen: Maybe you should have restrained him better.>
    <Merlin: This conversation isn’t productive.>
    Helen turned from her vigil at the door. Merlin sat at a table, sipping tea as if his life wasn’t in jeopardy. The cool image was spoiled by the glisten of sweat along his receding hairline. Clear blue eyes regarded her. <Merlin: I don’t think the Weapon is calming down. We need a new strategy.>
    <Helen: If any of you step into that hall, you will die.>
    <Merlin: Except for you.>
    <Andy: Hold on. She is the only thing keeping the Weapon from coming after me.>
    <Merlin: If the Weapon wanted to be in this room, a woman blocking the door wouldn’t stop it.>
    <Andy: That’s the only way it knows Helen wants me left alone. Moving might come across as some sort of signal that it is allowed to kill me. I’m not willing to take that risk with my life.>
    <Merlin: Then you misled the Collective when you volunteered for this mission.>
    Andy moved away from the door, chewing on his nails. His popularity had always been an enigma to Helen. The man was insecure and neurotic. Other than his stature, there was nothing special about Andy. He was just a large, clumsy man prone to anxiety attacks.
    <Helen: I think it is getting angrier.>
    <Merlin: We need some method of redirecting its attention.>
    <Andy: I hope Marilyn doesn’t get hurt.>
    Merlin flashed a look of annoyance at Andy’s back. <Merlin: Neither Marilyn nor Justin appears to be in danger. The two of us need to be worried about our own lives. You are the target of the Weapon’s anger and I happen to be in the same room as you.>
    <Andy (-1): So what, am I supposed to go out in the hall and sacrifice myself?>
    <Merlin: I prefer a solution that keeps all of us alive.>
    <Andy: Good.>
    <Helen: What if we can’t stop the Weapon from killing Andy? The Imperials insisted on meeting with Merlin.>
    <Andy (-1): I’m not sacrificing myself.>
    <Helen (-2): This whole ship is a sacrifice.>
    <Merlin: So what exactly happened to upset the Weapon?>
    Andy threw up his hands. <Andy: I punched the man!>
    <Merlin: I gathered as much already.>
    <Andy (-3): You aren’t going to dictate how we handle this situation. Neither of you are.>
    <Merlin: I’m only gathering information.>
    <Andy (-3): So you can make a decision for us. You’re no better than me. I refuse to take orders from you.>
    Helen took two steps forward, seized Merlin’s cup and threw it. Coriolis force made the cup hook anti-spinward and miss Andy’s nose. It ended Andy’s tirade when it clipped his ear. <Helen (-2): If none of us have to take orders, maybe I don’t feel like standing at the door. Is that what you want? Do you want me to leave the room?>
    <Andy: No.>
    <Helen (-2): Then you’ll do what we tell you.>
    <Merlin: I realize this is a stressful situation, but becoming emotional is not going to help us. We need to remain calm and figure out what our options are. Then the five of us on this ship can hold a vote.>
    <Helen: Option one is throw Andy into the hall.>
    <Merlin: Would you please resume standing in the doorway?>
    Helen turned to watch the diminutive humanoid stalk back and forth the corridor. The Weapon’s beady eyes fixed on her briefly before darting elsewhere. A buzz of anger emanated from the creature. It was growing louder. Too much louder and there wouldn’t be anything she could do.
    <Merlin: Start at the beginning. What happened?>
    <Andy: The man was making those noises again. He looked like he was going to get violent with Justin, so Helen said we should sedate him. The man panicked when he saw the injector. Helen told me to hold him still and he bit me. So I punched him. Then Helen told me to run from the Weapon. It started chasing me, but Helen got in its way. That’s what happened.>
    <Merlin: Was it protecting the man?>
    <Andy: I don’t know. Maybe.>
    <Merlin: I thought the Weapon didn’t care for him.>
    <Andy: How am I supposed to know what that thing thinks?>
    The Weapon paused outside the door to look past Helen. She held her position. A flash of confusion interrupted the torrent of anger. <Helen: It is confused.>
    <Merlin: What does it think is happening?>
    <Helen: It’s just confused and angry.>
    <Merlin: Would you say it is more angry or frustrated?>
    She hesitated. <Helen: I don’t think there’s a difference for my Weapon.> The Weapon stopped its pacing to look into the dining room again. Its white-less eyes fixed on Andy. The anger buzzed higher. <Helen: I think we’re out of time to decide. What are we doing?>
    <Andy: Wait, we didn’t vote!>
    <Merlin: Try convincing it we don’t mean any harm to the man.>
    Helen glanced over her shoulder briefly. Merlin was standing now, slowly putting distance between himself and Andy. <Helen: How?>
    <Merlin: Was Justin in the room when you tried sedating the man?>
    <Helen: Yes.> She involuntarily took a step back as the Weapon moved closer. Its size was so very deceptive. The thing appeared to be a small naked gray human, bald and devoid of external genitalia. Helen had seen it in action often enough that she could never think of it as harmless. Not even knowing the thing had come to protect her in the worst moment of her life.
    <Merlin: Marilyn was nearly attacked when she opened the door to the sanitary room. So there has to be a reason that Justin is not seen as a threat. I can only think of one thing that has set him apart from the rest of us in relation to our new passenger.>
    <Helen (-1): Why don’t you drag your revelation out a bit longer?>
    <Merlin: Justin fed the man.>
    <Andy: I’m not going near the man again.>
    <Helen: I take him lunch and everything’s forgiven?>
    <Merlin: That’s the best psychology you are going to get out of a physicist, I’m afraid.>
    <Helen: Give me a plate of something.>
    She took another half-step back before Merlin approached with a plate of bread. Merlin retreated as soon as she accepted the plate. Helen steadied her nerves, then brushed past the Weapon and commanded the bedroom door to open. Inside, the man scrambled off a bed to make yet another attempt to escape into the hallway. Behind him, Justin stood with arms folded across his chest. Helen blocked the doorway, silently daring the man to lay a hand on her.
    He skidded to a halt. Helen shoved the plate at him. The man ignored the proffered food, staring into the hall behind her. <Helen: Where is the Weapon?>
    <Justin: Directly behind you.>
    Helen shoved the man back into the bedroom and commanded the door to close behind her. <Helen: Let’s see if that worked.>
    On cue, the Weapon materialized in the room.

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