Tales from Space Short Story Contest - On Now!

Tales from Space Short Story Contest - On Now!

Aric Drakes Excerpt

Here’s the latest glimpse into the private life of IUS agent Aric Drakes:

Aric was passed out in his own bed, sprawled across the mattress like a victim of an explosion. He was lost in the sleep that only comes when the journey is done.

He was often awake for days at a time. The intensity of his work led him often from one horrendous nightmare to another, fending off brutal attacks, sniper shootings, assassinations and worse in a single-minded attempt to achieve his objective. His world was not linear in the incidents of his life; on the contrary, it was a psychedelic array of catastrophe and immolation. It was only linear in terms of the attainment of his mission’s objective, and Aric clung to that thin line of sense as his only connection with reality.

Sleeping in the middle of a dangerous situation, or between two dangerous situations, was often a good way to get himself kidnapped, assaulted, amputated or worse. He found that the attainment of his objective made it necessary to behave as the shark- to keep moving toward his goal. Otherwise, sudden twists and horrible accidents would invariably further snaggle his path to his goal.

When at last he would return home, he was galvanized on that forcible awakeness that only was mastered by the most hardened of soldiers. It was a time when detachment from your body is so complete you wear yourself like a baggy and lose-fitting suit, so oversized and clumsy you have to make every move, speak every syllable, gague every distance with the essence of tension’s strength. Each moment is over-exposed and one can never be certain that one’s reactions or motions will wind up hitting the mark. It is only a gritty concentration of constant will that makes one move, or act, or continue to evade capture.

This made him a particularly unusual husband and father. Gone for weeks or even months at a time, Aric would arrive home at odd hours, just in time for breakfast or late in the evening on a Sunday. Too well scrubbed to explain his lengthy absence, where a little road dust or mud or soot from a job he could explain to his wife and children would have eased the re-entry int domestic life.

He would seem detached, too focused, speaking intently and deliberately, having lost most of the jocular sense of fun that kept him the favorite parent of his girls, despite his long absences. His two daughters would hug and curl up with him unless school beckoned, but they would be quiet, cautious, sensing in their father the penumbra of great effort and greater catastrophe.

His wife, Kinna, for reasons of her own, had either quit caring about his stiffness, his distance, his deliberate seriousness, his nightmares, his insomnia, his wounds and scars, his absent-mindedness and his long absences or she had never cared. When he arrived home, Kinna would act as though a strange obligation had been added to her ever-lengthy list of things to do in the day. She would efficiently fix him a meal if one was not present, set towels and his bathrobe in the master bath, put the phones on silent ring mode (as she had learned the phone ringing made her husband jump and often answer it before he new what he was doing, even if it was not his own). She would never make eye contact with him, though she would provide her cheek for a kiss and her arms for an embrace, sometimes enduring one that bore the mark of trauma in its length. She would never ask him about his day, never ask him about his time away, never ask him about his co-workers. Kinna was an efficient orderly in Aric’s life when it intersected with her own, little more- at least for the first few days he was home.

Perhaps it was a wife’s trauma, not knowing if she would ever see her husband again. Kinna knew Aric worked for the IUS, and she knew, from the few times his foes had intersected with his family, that his work was dangerous. More than that Kinna refused to ascertain, as indeed her wilfull ignorance had saved her life twice so far. Those crises, coupled with the long grind of separation, may have crusted over the young love that had drawn them together with protective shells of distance. Perhaps Kinna had fallen out of love with him. Perhaps she never had loved Aric. After all the electro-shock, ionic scanners, torture and undercover ops Aric had lost the memories of his courtship with his wife to the white fog of pain and endurance… and that was not something one wanted to admit to their spouse, certainly not after having forced them to endure yet another protracted absence.

At any rate, on this day, Aric Drakes had walked with slow purpose to his door that masked the fact he could hardly tell up from down, or left foot from right he was so exhausted. He was guarding his left thigh from complete extension as he had taken a long-range rifle bullet to it and it was still covered in Graft-plaster to allow the cloned muscle to heal to his limb. He therefore kissed his wife on the cheek and only gave her a half-hug, which she accepted with a placid smile. While Aric fended off his toddler’s uncanny urge to climb up him using his left leg, Kinna made her husband a sandwich.

Aric tried hard to listen to Canessia’s rambling tales of her her schooltime adventures, but the sense of her struggling three-year old words was lost with the sound of the television and the rain outside and Kinna rustling plastic in the kitchen. Aric sat in his chair, which Kinna had politely cleared of the array of projects and clothes it had collected in his absence, and looked idly for the remote control to turn off the tv so he could begin to concentrate on his daughter. His left thigh throbbed mightily, and his ribs were tender to the touch from the fall down the embankment out of the hover-car.

Canessia was saying something about the stars. Aric tuned in for this.

… and the lights showed us Cassiopeia, and the Pleeeadees, and Ursa Major,” she was intoning from memory. From the shine to her eyes, Aric could see the projector the teacher had used on the classroom ceiling had made quite the impression. He had just used one of them to cast a distress call not more than two hours before. The synchronicty was remarkable, but not surprising- he and Canessia were kindred spirits, in their way.

That sounds beautiful, honey,” Aric looked intently at her, more to make sure that his eyes didn’t start to skip around in spontaneous REM motions than to intimidate. He smiled slightly.

Canessia, who was immune to her father’s gravity, nodded and kissed him on his nose. “Mrs. Wilson said, that if you come to the play on Friday, she would use it for the play, and you could see it while you watch the play.”

You’re in a play?” Aric asked, even as his delayed memory shunted forward some words Canessia had just spoken about such a thing.

Canessia, used to these delays and completely lacking in that adult self-importance to judge her father for it, waited for his memory to provide the information. She knew it made her dad frustrated when people repeated themselves on his account, and she knew the information would be there soon.

Charlotte’s Web,” Aric remembered.

Canessia folded into her father’s chest as only daddy’s little girl can do. “Yup,” she said, proud of him. “I’m going to be-”

Charlotte,” he finished. “That’s very impressive, Canessia. Good for you.”

Kinna came in with his food and shut off the television and radio. He caught her eye with his abject gratitude, and for a moment the husband and wife gazed at each other, plate held between them. He smiled at her, the dark circles under his eyes crinkling.

For once in Aric didn’t know how long, she smiled back.

The sandwich led to the shower, which led promptly to the bed, which led to Aric losing the next 18 and a half hours. It never ceased to amaze him that he seemed either to be living each and every second of his life with brutal clarity, or be landing in the middle of his family’s world and losing giant strips of their life together. Weeks of Canessia’s development, and Tesapiece’s before that, days of daily life to sleep… his life was more a mosaic of incidents than a life had any right to be.

At the moment, however, though Aric Drakes may have been caring about that in his subconscious as it floated peacefully on top of his unconscious body and mind, he was extremely grateful to be losing this morning send-off to school in favor of sleep. He had yet to see Tesapiece, his sixteen year old daughter, and though his heart ached to see her, to see how she had grown and if her eyes still sparkled at the sight of him, all Aric could do was sleep in the darkened bedroom.

Tesapiece, as Tesapiece was wont to do, broke the house rule of Never Waking Daddy. She snuck up the stairs before her mother could pile them into the SUV for school and opened the door to the master bedroom with professional silence that would have both disquieted her father and made him proud. If his eldest daughter was not careful, she could wind up an agent right alongside her father… a fact that was as plain to Aric as it was terrifying.

The beam of light from the bright Orion City morning shone around Tesapiece’s silhouette and fell on her father’s prone form. His sandy hair looked like a hedgehog had tussled with a landmine, and his snores were deep and profound. She watched him, was the first to notice the gel bandage on his thigh and the fact his rucked up tshirt concealed livid bruises.

I’m glad you’re home, Dad,” Tesapiece breathed, so quietly she herself could hardly hear her words.

Aric was awake instantly, his eyes quick and alight, albiet exhausted. He had already turned and sat up on his elbows, squinting now that his eyes had found the light.

His daughter’s form distinguished itself from out of the bright new day, and he smiled. “I am too,” he responded. “I love you.”

Tesapiece smiled and Aric knew he hadn’t lost her yet. “Love you too, Dad,” she whispered. From the bottom of the stairs, Kinna’s voice called up, admonishing Tesapiece not to Wake Her Father.

Gotta go,” she added with a wink and shut the door as silently as she had opened it. Aric smirked at the expertise, then his head collapsed on the pillow. He was alseep before it did.

The phone in Aric’s home had been installed by the IUS, using their proprietary technology on a separate and secure line that belonged to the IUS alone. All of ithe Drakes’ family calls could be monitored and traced for his and his family’s protection; records were kept on file with the IUS along with tracking signal information. Their phone system was keyed into cameras and microphones hidden in every room, along with a small speaker set so that, if hostiles took the Drakes hostage, a two way communication could be established to fine tune escape plans or transmit intel.

It was for this reason that, when Director King placed his call with his override in place, every phone in Aric’s house rang- even the private lines in Tesapiece’s bedroom and Kinna’s office line. Beside him on the table, his IUS issue PD, smaller and sleeker than the ones most GAGA citizens used, rattled and blinked vivid LED light. It was the emergency signal, a brilliant strobing red and white light that scanned around the room like Aric’s own private disco. It was accompanied by a piercing wail taken from a 1940s air raid siren. The IUS had researched fully and determined that this noise was one of the most triggering and effective attention getters known to mankind; they installed it as the emergency signal for each of their human employees.

Aric’s eyes fluttered under his lids. He slumped in bed, as though crouching before a jump, then he sat up once more on his elbows.

The room was spinning and Aric couldn’t determine where exactly he was. Was it California? Could he smell the ocean?

No… it was his house in Orion City. Tesapiece had just left for school.

Director King was calling.

Around him, the jangling of eight different phones pelted his eardrums with a cacophony of sound. All of it faded next to the emergency signal of his PD. He didn’t want to pick it up, but there was no way of stopping it unless he answered it.

Stabs of regret over missing Canessia’s play, and seeing Tesapiece for more than a minute- they clenched his heart and made him feel like he was having an infarction.

Aric Drakes,” he said, and was surprised by how thick and uncnscious his voice still sounded. Aric cleared his throat and tried again.

Aric Drakes, sir,” he repeated, sounding more human.

I need you to come in to the office, Aric,” Tobias told him bluntly. King had never been one for the superficialities of life, but what little aplomb he possessed had long ago spent itself on Aric Drakes. Drakes was like the multitool in King’s junk drawer- battered, used, time-tested, and the first thing King grabbed when he needed a job done fast and right. You didn’t coo over your multitool- you worked it when you needed it.

Sir,” Aric said tonelessly. He still felt the need to try to protest, even if it was an impotent token act, he could still say truthfully to his family that he had tried. If they asked. Which they wouldn’t.

I know,” King said simply. “Forty five minutes, Aric. Thank you.”

Aric let King hang up on him. He sat with the glorified watch in his hands where they hung limply in his lap. The abrupt quiet that had fallen on the house was as though Aric had been pushed into a side dimension- thrust out of his family and into an in between world where human life and warmth were absent. A stage set but abandoned, a place for him to gather his things and slip away into whatever new nightmare would come next.

He ran a hand over his face and stared haggard at the middle distance. He rose to his feet and dressed, grabbed his work issue boots and slipped away.

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