Asea, and Adrift
Asea, and adrift.
Moo felt like he was, well, –roasting, – burning, – afire. He wasn’t actually burning, but that’s what it felt like, and all over that feeling. That hot anger — his eye-pits pulsing with his heart beat, the knotting right in the pit of his stomach And his ears, they felt like they were aflame with sun-burn, he felt embarrassed and self-conscious — rubbing at and scratching at them in public — And he Wouldn’t scratch and pull on his ears in public. How rude! How shameful! Not that it offered any real relief, but it did make them feel better however temporary a respite it might be – from this humiliation. … Oh, but his stomach hurt — maybe he’d throw up? Oh! How his stomach hurt. And there was no one to tell.
No one to talk to about it. He wanted to, — but he wouldn’t cry!
The humiliation was that it was his own fault — his own doing; and his help, his sister with whom he could discuss anything, anything at all — was off-station on leave. The only Kilma he could really talk to, gone. … For months.
Even if it had been only fair that she have to stay on station after she had graduated and not abandon him— oh; suddenly he felt worse, felt worse for feeling selfish – for wanting to deny her leave-time, rob her to help him make the problem go away. He felt wretched and ashamed to his core. Ashamed of his selfishness, at the same time he was envious of her easy success. But he wouldn’t cry!
Welllll, —- envious of her easy success, maybe that was a bit of exaggeration; she’d specialized in comm’s and she was good at it. The respected T’hyrian, Prof. Ataessia, had mentored her, granting advanced lessons in T’hyrian language dialects, and other specialties. Comms was the second hardest subject of all! Brutal tests: having to switch from one dialect suddenly to another, to a different language, to a different alphabet, to the Protocols For Translating for Dignitaries, and back to common station speech without faltering or pausing. That was difficult, and then on to Graduating almost at the top of her class, and assigned to Fighter-Group Orange – arguably the best of the four defense flights — And after graduation she left, and left him, and all alone. And see? That was the root cause of all of this embarrassment.
She’d left, and left him alone– without family or friends on the big station. But he wouldn’t cry.
With everyone was always in motion, like the cosmic background radiation, this was the hum of the school — Kilm in motion: classes changing, going to meals, going to study, going to classes, to meals, to study, to sleep, to study, tests, he’d done it all himself. Well, but she’d always been there, always…
They were close knit, emotionally, if he’d buzz her she’d make time to talk to him, she’d stop in the middle of whatever, interrupt almost anything she was doing; her socializing, her meals, her studying, never too busy to answer his questions, and she’d gone and his heart was empty. He had always filled his time with study. But if he’d needed somebody — well, she had been there, since first he was brought on station. Before his first class, before he’d been assigned to Red Group, almost before he’d cleared security she’d been there. She’d been his tent post! His best, his only family, his only friend, … Oh, that had twinged the stomach. A fresh wave of nausea crashed over him.
See, he could feel a fresh blush across his face, his ears. See? Here was his problem; Helm. Helm had seen him cry.
He started missing his sister, the day after she left. The first thing he missed was her voice. Her voice, first thing every morning. She’d phone and he’d pickup the comm and hear, “Good Morning, Altair 7309.” Which was an odd, greeting, however, if it wasn’t first thing in the morning she’d call him by his nickname, and never when others could hear, “Moo.” What a wonderful sister! Now no one called him by his nick-name, no one called him, no one spoke to him, … he’d no friends. She’d been his mentor, friend, family, buddy, help. Now, it was always Sar’ Muss, or then Sar’ Muss Kaht T’heer, if he was in trouble.
Sar’ Muss? Are you all right?
Moo looked up. and let his head drop and ears fall back, and he sighed. It was happening all over again.
Yes, Yes, Sar’ Helm. I’m alright.
If ever he felt the world was just unfair, he repented of it, hastily, … it wasn’t unfair, it was cruel — and in a sadistic sort of way. Here, standing in front of him was the very last person he wanted to see, this gentle devil from another tribe and asking how to he might help.
“Sar’ Muss? You don’t look all right, let me help, is there anything I can do?”
He cringed, he was scared, his stomach was in painful knots.
He bit back an angry retort. He closed his eyes and bit back a harsher comment, he bit back an insult, and as suddenly, felt bile rising in his throat, “I wi- , I wish, I …”
And like his sister, like his face, his stomach betrayed him; he threw up.
A large puddle splashed and pooled between them, as he emptied himself — the foul smell wafting up and roiling his stomach — making him feel that he’d be forced to heave up more – were there more to heave. Moo fell to his knees. There wasn’t any more to vomit. Giving a dry heave, he wrapped his arms and held himself about the waist.
He opened his eyes and saw a hand and rag. Sar’ Helm had a cloth and was wiping it up, adding to his deep embarrassment. He tried to stand, weak and unsteady on his feet. Suddenly, a gentle hand to his shoulder, a strong arm across his back steered him into a room – away from the mess, out of the hallway, out of view. A gesture, a nudge, he sat down. The bed was deliciously soft, and smelled wonderful. Why must retching make one feel so wretched?
His sour mouth wanted nothing more than to be rinsed and be freed of the horrid taste. He looked up seeing sudden movement, a glass of water, cloudy. Maybe herbal? The water cold, slightly sweet, aromatic, the offered glass was water with fruit juice added — His emotional state was just a wreck, he wanted nothing more than to sleep, and fought that want, in order to observe the polite and proper protocols. He looked up to see his antagonist smiling at him.
“Sar’ Helm. Thank you for helping me.” He felt that his statement was inane and stupid, and not showing nearly enough gratitude. Sar’ Helm had, without being asked, cleaned up his body’s mess! But he didn’t know what to say, more. He sat on the soft bed, bewildered, stiff and mute.
“Sar’ Muss, you looked so bad yesterday, and today you seem ill. May I help guide you to the infirmary?”
“No, I’m fine,” he lied.
He tried to stand. Stood so for a moment, swayed, felt the blood rush to his feet, swayed widely, and fell back on the bed, managing at the last minute to stay sitting upright by folding himself at the waist.
He lost himself in his turbulent thoughts, rested his head on his knees.
“Sar’ Muss, I insist you have something to calm you, your nerves, your stomach,” Helm offered him a small tray; with dried fruit, a tsfeebok, and some other cookies, a small tin of tainni was open, a tiny wedge of Kheddar, all was artfully arrayed, placed on the bed beside him and his glass refilled. Where had Helm gotten these treasures, these delicacies, and why was Helm offering them to him? He couldn’t think clearly, and this was all a muddle.
He sat there on the devil’s own bed accepting his gifts; he had gone from the safety of the hallway straight into hell, — and now the torture began, again, refreshed and anew. He protested:
“Sar’ Helm, really, I’m fine, I only need to lay down. I’ll just just go to my room…” He was lying. He wasn’t fine, he felt awful, his head hurt, his throat burned, he was flushed in the face, and he was too dizzy to stand. True, the sight of the food and the growl of his stomach made the idea of accepting some of this hospitality appealing, but then he’d have to be here to accept it. That meant not leaving. That meant seeing Sar’ Helm, and talking to him, and not leaving.
And leaving was the most important thing for him right now, to not see the devil, not look at the devil, not talk to the devil, not enjoy these delicacies in the company of the devil, while being tortured by his generosity, right now, right here.
He quailed, as he waffled in his indecision, wrestled with his turmoil. He was wretched. His sister left him, and left him wretched, and he was o.k. with his suffering, he thought.
He really thought he was doing O.K. with her going, and then the day came a seven-day after she abandoned him; he was sitting by himself — a conscious choice in not wanting others to see him so upset. Gone to a place soooo hidden, soooo cryptic — not even security knew about it, an anomaly on the station. And a great place for solitude.
And someone had walked by, seen him alone, and asked him:
“Sar’ Muss? Are you alright?”
Moo had looked up. And let his head drop and ears fall back, and he sighed.
“Yes, Yes, Sar’ Helm. I’m alright.”
“But you are out here, so hidden, so alone? Do you need someone to talk to? Are you alright?”
That had merely been the trigger, the starter, this little question, so sweetly asked, “Are you alright?” That started the tears. Really, he tried to stop, but he was leaking from his eyes, and then this devil sat beside him, and put a comforting arm about his shoulders — The Floodgates opened, and he bawled like a baby. He cried like he hadn’t in three hands of years. All the anguished loss of his sister, feelings of abandonment, the terrible loneliness all came rushing out. How he had cried!
Instead of being horrified that Moo was crying like a weakling – not acting like a tough fighter pilot, Helm was not repulsed but had comforted him, cradling his head, holding his head so that his ears hadn’t gotten bent. Held him tenderly, and finally — when the hiccoughs started — Sar’ Helm had brushed away his tear trails. and held him tightly, hugged him till he was himself again.
When Moo had realized that a Kilmi, another cadet, from his own squadron, had seen him with not only tears, but had heard him cry — then brushed his tears away, he had stood, stared, and run.
Moo Bolted, had run back to his room and cried — at being caught crying. The humiliation! He’d cried himself to sleep wishing only for his sister to hold him, and tell him it was alright. Just like Sar’ Helm had. And hours later, in the bright harsh glare of ‘lights on!’ and reveille — he’d awoken with a horrible headache.
And morning brought an added misery! —- He had no idea, how many cadets Sar’ Helm had told! It could be all over the squad, or maybe even the upper-years had already heard the story! Stories like this spread as only the juiciest gossip can. Who knew? Tens of cadets? How many had been told? It could be hundreds by now. He realized that he had no way of knowing. … Thousands? That’s when the stomach ache began.
Moo finally got up, and washed and dressed, but no one in the showers said anything. Maybe they hadn’t heard, yet. It would take some time, surely.
Moo had made it to the mess-hall, gotten himself a tray of breakfast food and set it down on a small table, off by himself, alone, and managed to fool even himself that he felt normal, that everything was normal. It started then; the laughter. Just a few cadets, a table of mixed Kilma and Kilmi were giggling, then, suddenly the whole table erupted into gales of laughter.
They knew. He was certain of it, now.
He picked up his tray with the idea of eating in his room, … he could study there and be alone, not listen to them make fun of him. He shouldered his books, and balanced his tray, again, but they laughed again. Were they mocking him? He turned to look over his shoulder, to be certain that they were laughing at him, he had to know, — and he overbalanced the tray — everything slid slowly off — falling in a steady slow shower as he helplessly watched it all come crashing down. The whole mess-hall had stared, then burst into applause. He ran toward his room. That’s when the burning started. Oh, it hurt, his hunger at having eaten such a little bit, his terror at who might know? His horror at the previous day’s embarrassing display of emotion, having been caught moping in his ‘secret hiding place,” crying in front of another cadet, and now puking in the hall, and being nursed to a semblance of normalcy, … but the devil of his dreams showed no disdain, no revulsion, no issues with his outbursts at all.
Moo sat up straight, and turned to face his captor.
“Sar’ Helm, your hospitality, …, you have done too much. For me, … Such. … I don’t …” He faltered for words.
“Sar’ Muss, please, it is nothing. Your health must come first, please! You are feeling better now?” And here, Helm sat down, on the bed, right beside Moo.
Moo wanted to hate him, wanted to claw at him — gouge his eye-spots — break his ears, slash them to ribbons. But the passion of his internal agony was an overriding feeling, and he wavered in his confusion. He felt he might cry again, and he fought that, too.
“Why? Why me? Why your great kindness, after what you saw, yesterday?”
Eyes full of conflict met eyes full of confusion.
“How many have you told?” Moo managed to squeek out.
Sar’ Helm looked at the floor, and then turned the upper half of his body to face Moo. He stared earnestly into Moo’s eyes, with a steady calm gaze. Very calm, and very confident. More like one of the upper-year students, than like a first-year.
“Sar’ Muss, If you refer to your feeling sad, yesterday, … Why, I have told none. It would not be honorable of me to do so. It would undermine the respect they have for you. And it is not of any concern to them, that this happened. It is a natural thing — even if seldom witnessed. No, there is no one I need to tell your concerns too.”
“But, Sar’ Helm! …”
Here, Helm tilted his head to one side smiling a small tight smile, and reaching behind Moo, placed his arm gently over Moo’s shoulder. leaning his head in close, in mock conspiracy as if sharing a secret:
“Sar’ Muss, If I cannot some few secrets of yours honorably keep, how will I feel secure of my personal safety in a classroom, should you learn any of mine?”
And Sar’ Helm smiled.