The sound of the elevator door, opening with the crash, startled Mathilda. Down there she was usually alone, if one doesn’t count the thousands of malfunctioning Cans. Beside two dozen hooked to the feeders, waiting for her intervention, there were thousands of practically dead ones. She could do nothing more for any of them, their expiry date was past time, and her funds would not allow her to waste a time and effort on them. They are expendable, and no one would make a fuss about them.
It was not the time of the day when she could expect visitors, so she was surprised to see Mike R. coming out of the elevator, pushing a trolley laden with Cans. Mike was a good guy, and she knew that he secretly has a crush on her, but she never encouraged him to do anything about it. He was the one they usually send down with the Cans needing repair. It was not a glamorous job and she suspected that he volunteered in for it every time just to get a chance to see her.
“What do you have there for me? Six Cans? What have they been doing to them. Now, they are starting to flood me with the broken one.”
“Take a good look, honey.”
“Shit those are the new ones. What is wrong with them? What did they tell you to check?”
“No one told me anything.”
“What the hell did you bring them here for?”
“You always wanted to put your hands on a fresh one.”
“Yes, but I wanted only one. Do you have any idea what is the difference between six and a one.”
Mike had a guilty look on his face. Guilt mingled with confusion and shame. It was not what he expected. He thought that she would be pleased.
“You have completely lost your mind. This is not something that could pass unnoticed. They will look out for them; and if you have been working on unloading them, sooner or later they will find you.”
“No, they won’t. It was not my shift, somebody else has misplaced this trolley, and I just found it.”
“What am I supposed to do with so many.”
“Same as you have planned to do with the single one. You have been talking about it for ages.”
“Mike I don’t have enough of Metaxdrol. Not even for one let alone for the six of them.”
“I can’t take them back now, do what you want, you have thousands of dead ones down there, hide them somewhere.”
“Give me a hand; put them in the outer shells and connect them on the feeders. I’ll have to decide which one of them will receive a treatment.”
“What of the others?”
“They would have to get off the Juice the hard way.”
“Is it even possible?”
“Don’t know, no one knows for sure. In theory, there is no reason why not, but there always pops out something.”
“How would you decide which one would go safe, and which one would have to take a risk?”
“It would not be safe for either of them, just that one of them would receive Metaxdrol and it should be easier on him for that. I’ll check them out. They keep a record for every one of them, and I will pick the one who committed the lesser crime.”
“Do as you like, I’ll keep a distance for a couple of weeks just in case.”
With that said, he went back into the elevator and she was left alone. It was just a lucky break, she was waiting for a long time. The time to hesitate was over, she had to act now. Make a decision and stick to it. She took the evidence numbers of the newly arrived, and got their records. To leave no obvious traces, she took a score of records in a range that included the ones she wanted to check. It was her usual practice, she hated to retrieve records one at a time and most of the times got a lot more than she needed. Let’s see. We have two murderers, one sexual offender, two drug smugglers and one thief. She loathed sexual offenders, and was afraid of the murderers. So what’ll it be? Drug smuggler or thief.
In the light of the fact that the corporation, she was working for, was pushing juice at large scale, drug smuggling should not be taken as a serious crime on this planet. But they were not pushing drugs here. God knows how many lives these guys have ruined before they were apprehended. And the reason why she wanted to do, what she planned, was just that. To work against the merciless exploitation until death, of thousands of people. So a thief it is.
Ever since she found the description of the process for synthesizing Metaxdrol, she was trying to produce some quantity. Without proper equipment and painstakingly gathering ingredients it is taking her a while. With her best efforts, she manages to produce only a symbolic quantity of that drug monthly. Thus her experiments were just a small scale attempts with varying degrees of success, but closer to a failure. She had a theory, that it was due to the fact that her subjects came too late for the treatment. After years of being hooked on to the juice, they have developed a too strong addiction, and came in her hands in too bad condition to survive any lengthy treatment. In fact, by the time they came downstairs, the juice was the only thing that kept them alive.
She suspected some foul play with the quality of the juice, and even the quality of the Cans themselves. Looking at statistical data from the past years, it seemed that Cans lasted longer ten years ago. To prove her theory, she needed a healthy newcomer. The one that is not irrevocably hooked onto the juice, and strong enough to survive getting off it. One should be careful with what she wishes for. Instead of a subject she got her hand full. She could just hope that her choice was wise. With a sigh, she approached the chosen one, inserted vial with Metaxdrol to his drug inlet. Then she turned his audio in on. For the time being she would suppress any out signal. He was hooked to the monitors and all that she needed to know was there. The purpose of the little speech she had in mind was just to soothe her subject.
“I know that you don’t feel very well right now, but it would pass and you will get better soon. You are having an abstinence crisis. You are receiving Metaxdrol; it should ease up a process of getting off the juice. The situation is not critical, we are monitoring brain activity and all your parameters are within expected. In a couple of days you will get video in, and audio out. In a meantime, try to relax, and don’t resist the process.”
She had a similar speech to deliver to all the others, that were left to deal with withdrawal problems without any help. Since all of them were in pretty much the same condition, she turned their audio in, and talked to all at once. It felt like a cheating, but she was so beat up, so weary, that there was no shame in it. Along with her everyday duties, she spent additional hours dealing with their needs, and for the time being was not concerned with their feelings. She had enough problems with her own feelings, especially when two of her subject passed away. One of them was a murderer and another a drug dealer, but it did not help her to feel any better.
* * * * *
A reeling sensation accompanied the waves of nosiness followed by a dull but ever increasing pain. Now he was hoping for the crash, that would end all of this, to be soon. There was no fear anymore. Death was a welcome exit from this suffering. If he could speak would he scream or whine? Pulsing beat and buzz and images of exploding light tormented him in between two seizures of unbearable pain.
And then there was a Voice. At first he could not believe it was for real, but out of all the sounds, it was the only coherent one. Like a drowning man he held fast to that voice. It was an emotional roller coaster, he was getting into a most depressing mood when that voice was gone, and all his hopes would raise high once it came back again. If this was just his imagination playing tricks on him, he would not mind to play them forever just as long as he could hear this voice. At first he even paid no mind to what the voice was saying. Just the fact that it existed was enough to give him hope. But afterwards, when the talk ceased, he would recall the words and thoughts about the meaning of it would start to bother him.
Who is this woman and what is she trying to do? The story she told him, made no sense at all. Is this someones idea of a joke, to torture helpless human being like that? If it is, it is a sick joke indeed. He had no way of telling what time of day it is, or how many days have passed since they started their journey. Not even where he is at the moment. If he was to believe in what this voice said they arrived on the planet a week ago. As far as he knew they might as well be still on the ship, or transferred to another one heading who knows where. Maybe they have just run out of the juice, and the crew is stalling now hoping that they will be at the destination before it’s too late. Or maybe there is no juice enough for everyone, and they are forced to scrimp. Maybe some others are getting all that is needed, and he is left out because of his offenses? But this voice sounds too sincere to be feeding him lies.
What if what she is saying is the truth? What if by signing up this contract he signed his own death sentence. Would not be the first time someone deceives him, but the price this time would be too high. So many questions and he is unable to ask them.
This post first appeared on Pavel Jesenski - SF, Fantasy, Alternative History, Short Stories, Book Fragments, please read the originial post: here