November’s Story – Back From The War by Ray Daley
The gas plume flares for the fourth time when I finally manage to reach the holding area. As always the police are there to meet me. "Good morning, Captain Kloss." The Sergeant smiles and tries to make small talk but I wave him off.
"Just Mister Kloss now, Sergeant. Is he secure?" I ask him.
"Like a fortress, sir. Sleeping like it never happened." says the Sergeant.
"How much this time?" I ask, running the tokens in my pocket through my fingers.
"Just 50k for the droid, sir. I thought he was better now, someone said he'd been to The Clinic?" the Sergeant is generous, no booking fee, no bail and most important of all - no bribe to grease the wheels of justice into faster action.
I pass him the 50k token and he smiles. "As always, good to see you, Captain."
"It's just Dmitri now, Sergeant. The war ended ten years ago." I say to him.
I got him this job, my write-up helped to get him the extra stripe. He feels like he owes me something which is probably why the bail-outs are always so cheap on his watch. I hear the boots of the other police officer approaching, matched by the familiar staccato footsteps as he stumbles along beside him.
"Hello, Jason, old friend!" I say, knowing he won't reply. I manage to get him into the cab which is waiting outside for us, the driver already knows where to take us. We are that well known.
"Hello, Captain, it is good to see you again, sir. I'm sorry about the Lieutenant, sir. I hope The Clinic will do a better job this time." The driver is yet another face from my past. As usual we pay no fare when we get out at The Clinic, we've done this trip many times before, still he refuses to take my tokens.
The Porter on the front door snaps to attention and salutes me out of habit, I have to restrain myself from throwing one back at him. "Captain! We weren't told to expect you, sir!" he says.
I indicate towards Jason. "Another episode, sadly. We'll try the treatment again. Perhaps with greater success this time."
He helps us inside, bringing out a wheelchair.
Jason can walk. His legs work fine. It's just the link between them and his mind that aren't functioning right now.
Another old comrade is working at the booking desk, he hastens our admission for old times sake, one of the many favours which are owed to me that can never be repaid. We're directed to an elevator. I know what to expect next. When the door finally opens several floors later, he's already waiting for us in the corridor.
"Hi, Doc, sorry to be back again so soon." I say to him, slightly red-faced at being back in The Clinic yet again.
"It's okay, Captain, the Lieutenant can't help himself. Who did he shoot?" the Doctor asks me.
News travels real fast here, especially bad news or idle gossip.
"Just a mech Doc, don't ask me where he got a gun or how he found the money to buy one. Veterans Admin say he barely gets enough to feed himself most days." I explain, or try to.
I push Jason into the examination room and stand ready. The Doc locks the door and activates the audio tape. Outside the room it's mostly silent, just the ambient hum of normal hospital life going on in the distance. In here is the sound of distant gunfire, explosions, men screaming for help, the engines of war. The days of our previous lives.
"Sir, take cover. We've got incoming!" It's Jason, back with us again.
The Doc stops the tape and Jason slowly releases his vice-like grip on my wrist. "Where am I, Captain?" Jason asks me, unsure of his reality.
"It's just Dmitri now, Jason. The war is over. We're home now." I say.
"Are we really back, sir?" Jason asks, with a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
"Yes, my friend. It's all long over now. You're back from the war." I turn and look across the cityscape framed by the window and say to myself, "We're all back. Mostly."
For more information, check out this blog’s interview with Ray Daley here.