Inside His Mind

Whispers of Mars [Chapter 5]

Cecil’s body was sore when he awoke, but the only thing he remembered from that night was the distant sound of his own name being called—

Cecil

“Cecil. Are you awake?”

He was sure he had heard the door, but that was before he had been forced awake by the strange call. His eyes flickered open. The woman hovering over his bed was thin, with a messy bun of hair.

“Maria?” He uttered.

The woman looked up and across the room with a distant look. Cecil’s eyes followed. He caught a glimpse of the dark-haired woman to whom that name belonged. Then it was the pull of the first person’s hand.

“Cecil, I need your attention right now,” she said sternly. Her accent was similar to that of Agrippa’s but somewhat distant. “I’ve been asked to put a few others on hold. To come here to see you.”

Cecil blinked at the thin woman.

“Perhaps you don’t remember. You may have heard me referred to as Doctor Tulia. We’ve… seen each other bi-weekly for the past seven months.”

Cecil nodded blankly. He sat up the best he could, his back and arm sore. “The doctor… is a man, though?”

Tulia yanked a stool up close to the edge of the bed and rested a tablet on the guard rail. “I’m a doctor of psychology, Cecil. Perhaps you’ve heard speak of an evaluation?”

Cecil glanced at Maria. Tulia nodded her head in the corner of his eye, and he turned back.

“Let me remind you, as your forgetting seems to be a part of a bigger picture of your mental state. My job here, personally, is to communicate with all members of the station to attempt to build a profile of the psychological effects of the long-term occupation of a place like this. Our findings are shared with the agency back on Earth. Does any of that ring a bell?”

Cecil nodded, but out of obligation rather than understanding.

Tulia frowned. “Okay then. Cecil, let’s first go over your Prosopagnosia. You’re familiar with what I speak of, right?”

Cecil nodded again, finally catching onto something familiar.

“Good. To date, it hasn’t affected your work, but we’re…. I’m concerned about its possible progression. For reference, can you describe when you first remember experiencing it?”

“I remember it when… after… after I was in the hospital as a child for head trauma.”

“Good. That is according to your record,” Tulia said, scrolling along the screen of her tablet.

“It was when… I couldn’t… recognize… my mother’s face. My mother… Maria.”

Tulia let out a short sigh. “She’s not going anywhere.”

“No… my mother…” Cecil murmured, rubbing his forehead, attempting to seek the connection somewhere in his mind.

“I’d like you to focus on what I’m asking you, Cecil. Next, wow would you describe… the way that someone appears to you?”

Cecil blinked and faced Tulia. “It is… a blur, yours is just… no different from anybody else. The same five things, the same places.”

Tulia nodded. “That is also consistent. Do you remember who you were with during the accident?”

“Agrippa and… Markus.”

“All good readings.” Tulia rested her tablet down in her lap. “Let’s continue with a few more questions. You sleepwalked two nights ago, I heard. Do you remember any of that?”

Cecil almost answered, then remembered the bandages, since removed from his healing fingers. “I remember… the outside.”

Tulia nodded hurriedly. “And last night. The… attack. When you fell out of bed… gasping, it was recorded. Was it a nightmare? And if you remember it, perhaps you can recall it for us?”

Cecil looked at the blanket in front of him. “I remember… not being able to breathe. No more than that…”

“A recollection of the accident perhaps?” Tulia leaned back and rested her elbows on her thighs. “One last thing. Something that Agrippa mentioned— an aversion to water. Something connected, as well, to the accident?”

Cecil blinked in confusion. Tulia studied his face before glancing to the nurse. Maria nodded and stood before taking down a plastic cup out of the cabinet, then filling it with water from the faucet. Cecil pursed his lips tight.

Tulia took the water cup from the nurse and poised it on the edge of the bed. “You’ve been on intravenous fluids, so you don’t really need to take anything orally, but perhaps your throat is dry?”

Cecil shuddered. He held his hand to take it. He steadied himself the best he could and pulled the cup up before his face. Without looking, he threw it back, attempting to swallow without having to feel it. One gulp through, he sputtered and coughed but managed to down the rest.

Tulia nodded and scribbled on her tablet. “I see. Nurse, keep him on IV for the time being, but make sure he is able to take some oral hydration as well.”

“Got it.”

The door whooshed open. The person who stepped through was obscured by Tulia. The thin woman glanced back, then returned her attention to Cecil. “Cecil, I can see that you’re getting better, at least by some measurements. If we don’t solve the root of these remaining… issues, though, getting you back to work may have to wait. That’s not what you desire, I’d hope?”

The man who entered through the door stepped up beside the bed. He was older, with a bald head, but he made no move to speak. Cecil studied him, but Tulia’s presence was overwhelming.

“Well, Cecil…” The woman sighed and sat back finally. “Agrippa, were you able to speak to the commander?”

Agrippa looked down at the floor. “Yes. Cecil’s department leader as well. Cecil, getting you back to work is our main focus, but not if you’re unable to— physically or mentally… well, please, work with us.”

Tulia blinked and nodded. She shuffled herself back and stood. “Like I said, I’ll be putting in more research, as busy as I already am. Agrippa, I’m at least happy to say that his Prosopagnosia— the face blindness— is at the same condition as it likely was before. There are other aspects we should keep an eye on, I’m afraid of, though. Maria, you have your instructions.”

Agrippa shifted around, hands behind his back, as Tulia sped out, exiting the loud door. He made a few cursory glances as the door closed behind her.

Cecil stared at the shapes of his legs under the length of the blanket.

“She really knows how to make you feel vulnerable, doesn’t she?” Agrippa spoke up.

Cecil nodded. “I need… a mirror.”

Agrippa pulled his attention up. “A mirror. For yourself?”

Cecil nodded. Maria shuffled about at the edge of the room. “I think I have a small one here…”

“I’ll remind you… you’ve been through a lot, Cecil.”

“I want to… make sure that… I’m still myself.”

The nurse stepped across the room, carrying the hand mirror, reflecting a bright spot of light across the surfaces of the room.

“Well, you are the same Cecil that I recruited to join us there that day…”

Cecil pursed his lips and nodded before taking the mirror. “There’s… something. Something I’ve never told to anyone. Even that woman.”

“Something that you haven’t told Tulia? You’re sure of that?” The older man tilted his head. “That’s something you remember?”

Cecil nodded. “Else she would have asked me about it just now. When I first started noticing the faces of people around me… blurring into obscurity… I could still always recognize myself in the mirror.”

Agrippa nodded. Cecil held the reflective surface up in his lap and gazed into it for a long moment. Just as everything else appeared to him, the tanned face in the mirror was blurry and distorted. The skin upon the man’s cheeks was dry and flaking and taut, his hair cut close to his scalp, and eyes rounded out by dark circles.

“That’s me,” Cecil lied.

’Good, good,” Agrippa mumbled, taking the mirror from Cecil’s hands with a slight resistance. He sauntered across the medbay and offered the mirror back to the nurse. “The first part to getting better is knowing how and where we hurt. Keep this in a proper place, Maria. In the case it needs to be used again.”

Maria nodded. Agrippa leaned in close for a moment to her ear, his lips moving. “I see. Okay. Okay.”

Agrippa pulled back and smiled at Cecil. “One last thing… what I came here for actually. Tomorrow, Cecil— the commander wants you to come by. Tulia and I shall be there too, to discuss with him our desire to get you more time to recuperate. I imagine that sounds alright with you?”

Cecil mulled the words and nodded. “Yes. I… don’t mind.”

Agrippa clapped his hands together. “Good. Then, we shall see you at 09:00 hours.”

The door whooshed as the older man took his leave. Maria was left, finding her way back to the desk at the corner of the room. “Are you anxious to get back to work?”

Cecil stared at his hands, the thought of the projects back in his department waiting to be assembled, disassembled, cleaned or maintained. The gears in his mind ticked like the mechanisms he studied and fixed and improved. He couldn’t remember what task he had left behind before going on the expedition with Agrippa. “I… like the feeling of getting things to work. Seeing how they work. If only… my body was the same way.”

“You may leave that to us medical professionals,” Maria attempted to joke. “Even Tulia. Though, compared to your tools and machines, the human body still has its mysteries. You said… that your condition came about after a head injury, right? I don’t mean to pry, but I didn’t see anything like that in your medical records. You do have a scar, though— I saw it when I shaved your hair.”

Cecil felt at the spot just above his neck, where the streak of skin remained, unable to grow hair like the rest of his head. “Yeah…”

“I’m sorry, I was just thinking of the record-keeping. If it were so important, it would be there. The administration is very thorough, after all.”

“My father threw a bottle at the back of my head when I was a child. Six years old.”

Maria shuffled quietly.

“She told me… after I was older… the whole situation. My mother, that is. She didn’t want to have the police involved, plus we probably didn’t have insurance. My mother took me to some little place where they were probably just playing doctor. Someone unlicensed. I got stitches, and that was that.”

“I’m sorry, Cecil.”

“My father worked long hours, two jobs probably. Got drunk when he wasn’t working. He probably felt bad after hitting me like that, but… it wasn’t long before I couldn’t remember who he was. When he was home those couple of hours at night before going to bed, it was like he was just a stranger to me, someone with a face I couldn’t remember. It was the same for my classmates at school, then my teachers. The only face I could remember with any accuracy was my mother’s.

“My father… got fed up… with being treated like a stranger, both by me and my mother… and he just left. Those times were tough, but the people at the church my mother attended helped us out a lot. By the time I had gotten into high school, we had lived with a few other families and in shelters and little dingy apartments.

“It didn’t matter to me, all the different people we dealt with back then… because there was no remembering all of them… any of them. But I could always see the pain in my mother’s face, from having to move us around, to borrow things, sell things… steal things. Maybe she didn’t think I could recognize it. But I told myself that I didn’t want to see her like that forever.

“Since other people didn’t seem to care for me, the person who never knew their name or spoke back to them, I could just focus on studying and working. When I graduated, I got into the Navy and tried out for the engineering division as soon as I could. From there… well, that’s all history. Well, that’s actually where I was finally diagnosed with the Prosopagnosia. Though, you probably know that part already.”

“That’s a lot to go through, Cecil,” Maria said, her face turned away from him. “It warms my heart to know that you’re still thinking of your mother, even now.”

Cecil nodded. “I… I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me. For some reason… I can’t stop thinking about her. My mother. She was… I don’t know.”

The nurse finally turned back and forced a smile at him. “For the time being… focus on yourself. Your rest is the most important, Cecil.”

“Yes, of course.”

<– Previous Chapter | Next Chapter –>

The First Half of NaNoWriMo [Vlog]

Hey Greasers! I hope you’re enjoying the rewrite of Mother of Mars (now under new titleship) so far. I’ve been checking in daily with my camera to give perspective on what I’m doing and how I’m being creative this month with my writing. Check it out below! It would be really cool if you Subscribe to my YouTube channel and give the video a like as well.

The Voice

Whispers of Mars [Chapter 4]

The next time Cecil found himself awake, a familiar voice came to visit the medbay. Agrippa was the man with the bald head and the gentle voice. “How is he?” He asked, definitely directed to Maria at the corner of the room behind the desk.

“I… don’t think…”

Cecil slid up in the bed as silently as possible. Agrippa’s eyes immediately turned his way. The older man nodded a greeting before coming up with the words to speak. “Ah, so you are awake. Are you sleeping properly these days?”

“Yes…. I mean…” Cecil thought to himself. He couldn’t remember what a normal sleep felt like, or when he had last experienced something that resembled such a thing.

“The commander wants you… he wants the bed space here in the medbay back. Your bunkmates have been asking about you as well. How do you feel about getting out of here?”

Cecil nodded. “I could… I could get some food in me,” he said, pursing his lips and trying to decide on an emotion.

Agrippa looked at Maria, who gave a gesture of agreement. “I should avoid offering him the supplements on an empty stomach anyways. Something easy to digest, though.”

Agrippa rubbed his hands together. “I shall… see what they are serving.”

The nurse stood to begin fiddling with the boxes and bottles while Agrippa was absent once again. Her tray rattled as she dosed out the pills and tablets. Soon enough, the older man had returned.

The hefty plastic tray had seen countless meals and countless clacks of utensils. The main dish was a heavily seasoned vegetable protein in an indescribably colorless lump, but it had been plated graciously with a pile of corn kernels. “From the farms?” Cecil asked, looking between the delivery man and the food.

“I managed to snatch some for you,” Agrippa boasted.

“Agrippa,” Maria asked. “While he eats, may I speak to you again. In the hall?”

Cecil glanced their way a few times as he prepared to take the utensils in his hands. The food met with his mouth, sticky and unctuous, salty and peppery— not far from what he remembered. It settled heavily in his stomach after the first of the few arduous swallows. The voices of the other two found their way through the door in muffled bursts.

Cecil attempted to taste the corn adorning one pocket of the tray. The spoon shook, barely able to contain the loose kernels. The motion of bringing the food up to his mouth had somehow exhausted him, and his head pounded. Maria and Agrippa finally returned through the noisy door.

“Cecil,” Agrippa spoke up first. “The commander intended for you to go and report before him tomorrow morning, but we’ve come to the decision that you should be kept here longer for more recovery and evaluation— for your own good.”

Maria nodded from her place beside Agrippa. “We believe… we’re imagining that the return to the regiment of the normal supplements should make you feel normal once again,” her head perked up, and she turned back to the counter to the little reusable cup that rattled with pills.

Cecil watched the nurse’s hand as she walked toward him, adding the cup to the presentation of disappointment upon his tray. “Once you’re finished eating, take those. It’s the same dosage as it has been, so take them slowly. Oh, I’ll get you some water…”

Cecil’s hair stood on end as he heard the word. He didn’t know why. He distracted himself— and hopefully the others— by picking up the cup and staring at the pills.

At some point, the purpose of every last pill and capsule had been explained to them, everyone there who had come there to the red planet. Some were described to be on the experimental side, made specifically for their uses, while most others simply were there to replace that which they would have otherwise gotten under normal human circumstances. The biggest capsule was a slow-releasing melatonin, as it had been discovered that the natural production of it was stunted under their unique conditions. The Vitamin D supplement was for a similar reason— the difference in the levels of sunlight, as well as to help absorb the calcium supplement that was mixed in. Some pills were taken weekly, others every other week, and some once a month. The main rotation was all there, the same pills Cecil had swallowed countless times since his arrival.

Agrippa and Maria muttered to each other, disguising their voices over the sound of the sink’s running water. Cecil shivered at the sight and the sound of the shimmering flow of the tap. He looked back down at his half-finished food as they went silent again, turning their attention back to him.

His eyes traveled back and forth between the two of them. The older, bald man’s gaze was intently fixed on him, while the nurse’s was lowered and transient. The second cup took up another spot on his tray, supported by his lap. Cecil forced a smile, and the other two backed off. He played with the slop and forced down another bite for appearances. Out of the corner of his eyes, he followed the others.

The woman let out a low sigh and returned to the desk at the corner of the room and the creaky stool. The man looked at Cecil, then the woman.

“Well, I still have work to do. I’m glad that you’re on the road to recovery, Cecil. Maria—“

Following the shift in the man’s attention and words to the woman, Cecil took the change to toss the pills back and swallow them dry, then took the cup of water and deposited it in the bedpan on the side table. Before he could place both containers within each other, he caught what seemed to be the man staring him down for a brief moment out of the corner of his eye.

“I will expect her,” The woman said to whatever the man had informed her of.

The man headed for the door and nodded back. “Let me know if anything comes up.”

If the bland food didn’t kill Cecil’s appetite, it was the medication as it began to dissolve and bubble away in his stomach. Maria worked for a short while longer. The late shift nurse, a man, was in soon after, exchanging a few words and instructions with her. When the lights dimmed, save for the focused work lamp on the corner desk, Cecil felt what seemed to be a natural urge for sleep sweeping its way through him…

Cecil

The peaceful sleep was interrupted by the pounding in his head. Cecil was covered in sweat when he awoke. The blankets were heavy on him. He attempted to breathe, but a great weight seemed to fight against the rising movement of his chest. He attempted to call out, to scream, but his throat was closed up. The pounding in his head grew worse.

Cecil

Cecil managed to find his hand to the railing of the bed, a set of cold metal bars. He shoved the covers off of him and sit up, twisting himself around for support. The locking mechanism on the railing failed suddenly, causing him to topple forward onto the floor. He landed with a loud crack, followed by a dizzying pain that compounded with his throbbing temples. He couldn’t breathe.

The light flickered on. The male nurse was at his side. Cecil shoved the man’s grasp away from him. He couldn’t breathe. He felt at his throat as the nurse grabbed him by the shoulders. Cecil clawed at his own face and neck, still leathery and tight. His throat rejected the air about him. His fingers entered his mouth as if trying to claw himself open from the inside out. He began to wretch, teeth digging into his skin. The food and pills from earlier came up and slopped onto the ground and down his front. His chest heaved as the air was finally able to return.

The light above flashed red. Maria entered the noisy door, followed by the doctor. They pushed Cecil up, pulled him off the floor, and held him back to the bed. “Breathe. Just breathe. You’re okay.”

Cecil’s chest rose and fell in quick bursts as he sucked in more air.

Cecil

“He must have aspirated.” The doctor said, stepping around the mess on the floor. “Maria, help me get this cleaned up. Paul, why didn’t you have an eye on him?”

“I was here. The whole time. He was breathing normally, pulse normal until… just now.”

The throbbing of Cecil’s head felt like the beating of his heart and the pull of his lungs on the cold air of medbay. As his breathing slowed, so did his heart and the pain along his brow. The medical staff felt at his wrist, and listened to his heart and peered down his throat and checked his temperature. Sleep returned to him.

<– Previous Chapter | Next Chapter –>

Across the Void

Whispers of Mars [Chapter 3]

The Medbay didn’t have any windows to the outside. The only light was from those above, coming on and shutting off as they desired. If it wasn’t the light keeping Cecil awake, it was the coming and going of people from beyond the privacy curtain, clinging to the sides of his bed in the already cramped space.

Those beyond spoke in low voices, some he recognized, others he didn’t, followed sometimes by the nurse’s responses. They could have been speaking of him, or of something completely different, regardless of his presence there mere feet away.

It was his thoughts sometimes that kept him awake, thinking of memories that seemed to be fragments in the web of his mind, each bit holding unknown importance. Sometimes the faded memories came to him as dreams, finding him when sleep managed to grab a hold of him.

Cecil

His name came to him, awaking him as it had many times during the past days. He listened again for Agrippa’s voice, or Maria’s, but he realized that the voice belonged to neither.

The medbay was dark and silent. A gap in the curtain glinted with tiny LEDs of equipment waiting to be used, to test or diagnose or fix or dispense whatever was required.

Cecil hadn’t stood since his arrival into the medbay, but his feet knew how to find their way to the ground, even if the rest of his body hadn’t had time to rest and recover. The pattern had been drilled into him after hundreds, if not thousands of nights in the past.

The USS Tunkasila, a destroyer. The USS Havasu, a patrol ship. The USS Hawaii, a submarine. Cecil still remembered the nights of rotations, departing the tight bunks as another was awaiting their own rest in the same spot. The bedding collected their odors, and after a while, even with washing, the three inhabitant’s smells would combine together until it belonged to no single individual.

Cecil smelled the odor of unwashedness upon himself as he shifted to his feet. It was time to get back to work, he told himself. The socks on his feet gripped the cold metal ground with tiny rubber nubs. The curtain crinkled as he pushed past it. The plastic line providing him with fluids held him back, followed by the yanking of the needle at the end of it. The tape holding the device to his skin pulled away cleanly, followed by the sharp, left to dangle on the end of the tube.

The automatic door, the noisy door, with its slow whoosh which had wormed its way into his mind, was just beyond. Cecil stumbled to it, and it opened gracefully for him. The air outside was noticeably cooler. The walls beyond were illuminated with dim, orange— almost red— lights that glinted at him.

The walls held his weight as he marched forward. Beyond them were electrical conduits powering the systems, the air controllers and ducts feeding everyone oxygen and scrubbing the CO2, and the computer systems making sure that everything worked as it should. The metal shielding was marked with smooth panels and rounded rivets, interrupted by vents and grates and control panels and vinyl stickers marking directions or locations of important equipment. Everything there had been constructed on Earth, impossibly far away, and brought there for the needy few to begin their lives there anew.

Cecil’s feet found the path, one foot after another. The blocks of structures littering the tiny fraction of the face of the crater there were interconnected by long pathways of flexible material, insulated from the thin atmosphere and uncompromising weather and permeating dust of the beyond. Cecil clung the best he could to the tightly-knitted fabric, rough and somehow soft to his touch. From the blurry plastic windows dotting the catwalk, he could see that night had fallen, sucking the light from the beige sky.

In every direction, the gentle slope of the crater rose up. Somewhere on the edge of the crater was the location where Cecil, Agrippa, and Markus had descended into the ground, encountered the oppressive heat, seen the glimmer of the pool of water.

Cecil

Cecil’s long fingernails found the individual threads of the canvas wall, and the tiny, slick fibers woven in to patch the long sections together. He found himself on his knees, pressing against the north-facing window, fingers tearing at the fabric. The loops of the stitching began to come loose, one by one, and the edge of the panel began to fray.

A red flashing glow permeated the halls, followed by a low buzz. Cecil held at his ears and crouched to the ground on his knees. The footsteps pounded the ground and echoed, approaching. In a flash of dark hair, Cecil felt the weight of another person upon him, attempting to pull him up and away from the wall. From the opposite direction down the hall came another, this time with louder and more rhythmic footsteps.

“Cecil?”

“I have him,” said the voice in Maria’s sweet yet worried tone.

“What is he doing out here?”

“I… I don’t know. I should have…”

“Let me help you get him up.”


The lights came back on. Cecil was back in the hospital bed, and the older bald man paced back and forth. Maria yanked on Cecil’s hand and extended his fingers. Several trails of blood had found their way across the blanket in his lap. His fingertips and nails ached. The nurse crushed his fingers against each other and began to wrap them in a tight bandage.

The door whooshed open. Agrippa turned back and faced the man in the doorway, shaking his head.

“He’s back now, is he?” The big, unknown voice asked.

Agrippa nodded. “Just fine. He didn’t resist.”

“Did you see what he did back there?”

Agrippa nodded again, slowly. “I don’t even know…”

“Figure it out. Ms. Ramirez, come see me when you’re done caring for the patient.”

The nurse looked up from her work on Cecil’s hands. “Y-yes, commander.”

Her touch was soft and caring. Cecil found himself dozing off once again.


The light was on once again. The curtain was open a slight amount. The dark-haired nurse sat across the room, back to him, hunched over the counter. “Maria?”

The woman sat up with a start. “Yes, Cecil?”

“What are you doing?”

“A report.”

“A report?”

“On… my failure to be at my post. The doctor needed help next door with his experiment last night. It was my fault.”

Cecil felt at his face without thinking and found the taut bandage around the tips of his fingers. “Your fault… for… something I did?”

Maria turned the stool back suddenly. “Don’t think too much of it. You are the patient, and I am here to care for you.”

“For me… Maria…”

“Yes?”

“I’ve heard that name before.”

“You’ve said that before, as well.”

“I have?”

Maria smiled weakly and stood up, approaching. “Cecil, tell me what you remember about last night.”

“Last… night.”

“Never mind.”

Cecil blinked his eyes. The headache was sudden, pounding in his forehead. He held his hand to his face. “I have… there is…”

Maria frowned. “We haven’t had you on the Saline since early this morning. You’re probably dehydrated. Let me get you a fresh needle.”

Cecil managed to look past the bright light as the nurse filled amongst her supplies. “Nurse… how far away… is home?”

Maria paused. “You may know better than me. Millions of miles.”

Cecil shivered and nodded. “Do you think… they would send me back?”

The nurse trotted back and hung a fresh, clear full bag of saline on the nearby hangar before taking Cecil’s elbow in her grasp. “I don’t have the ability to answer that. If this mission would ever permit it… it would have to go through the agency… the commander before that, even.”

“The… commander—“ Cecil winced, a fresh pinprick to his arm as the IV line was inserted.

“I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s—“

Maria lowered her head. “We’ll restart you on the regiment of supplements soon. You may be suffering from withdrawals. At least you have some strength still left in you, even if you haven’t gotten any solid food in your for a while.”

“What do you mean?”

“About?”

“My strength?”

“The other night…”

“What about then?”

“Never mind. Get some rest. I will remain here if you need anything else to make you feel more comfortable.”

<— Previous Chapter | Next Chapter –>

From A Deep Slumber

Whispers of Mars [Chapter 2]

Cecil

“Cecil, do you hear me?”

Cecil

“I don’t think he’s fully awake.”

“Give him time.”

Cecil

“Can’t you give him something?”

“Nothing that won’t have an ill effect on him.”

Cecil

A weight sat on Cecil’s chest. He attempted to grab at his sternum, but the IV in his arm stopped him.

“Do you hear me, Cecil?” The soft UK accent spoke at him. “Stay put. Just speak to me if you can.”

“Who… is calling… my name?”

“Just me, Cecil. Don’t worry. You’re in a safe place.”

Cecil listened for the other voice, one he couldn’t place. The pale lights above on the ceiling were blurry as he forced his eyes open. The shadow of one, two people hovered above him.

“Who…?”

“Agrippa.”

“Agrippa,” Cecil repeated.

Agrippa was the man with the UK accent, and the bald head, and a creased forehead. Cecil attempted another deep breath. The weight was still there. He coughed.

“Don’t force yourself, Mr. Ruiz.” Another voice spoke. It was a third voice, yet another unfamiliar one.

“Where…?”

“You’re in the command block. The medical bay. You’ve… been here for about a two weeks.”

“Mr. Ruiz,” the new, feminine voice spoke to him. “I have the duty to inform you of your condition. Do you wish to hear it?”

Cecil looked at Agrippa, before searching the edges of his site for the source of the voice. “I don’t remember.”

Agrippa smacked his lips and sat up, away and out of Cecil’s view. “How far back do you remember, exactly?”

“Remember… the tunnel… a glimmer.”

“Cecil…” The older man shook his head. “Do you remember… removing your helmet?”

“Agrippa, I would refrain,” the woman spoke.

“We came across a… phenomenon, something natural of course, and… something came over you.”

The woman cleared her throat. “Mr. Ruiz, while you are in relatively good condition now, when you came in… the prognosis then was acute hypoxia and heatstroke.”

“Markus bruised your ribs too, it seems, when trying to resuscitate you.”

“Markus…”

“I see, you likely don’t remember him,” Agrippa concluded, tapping his arms on the edge of the bed. “I suppose we should bring him in too. Maybe hearing his voice would help you remember?”

“Mr. Agrippa,” the nurse spoke up. “I have been directed to run some further tests now that Cecil is awake. I appreciate your concern, but I recommend another visit at a later time.”

Agrippa hesitated on the words and stood. “Ah, understandable. I shall return. Thank you, Maria.”

The footsteps echoed across the floor as Agrippa exited, followed by the whoosh of the automatic door, separating the clean, neat area of the medbay from the main hallway. Cecil said the name over and over in his mind, the name that Agrippa had said.

“Yes?” The woman asked suddenly, seemingly unprovoked.

Cecil held his breath. His chest hurt once more with a dull pain. “Huh?”

“You said my name?” Maria said sweetly. The edges of Cecil’s blurry sight revealed only locks of dark hair.

“I… did?” Cecil said to himself and repeated out loud. “Maria…”

“Yes?”

“No…” Cecil shook his head weakly. “Where have I heard that name before?”

The nurse breathed out through her nose slowly. “You know I’ve seen you here before, for the routine check-ins. Sometimes nurse Paul, but mostly me.”

“Yes… of course. Maria… but I’m sure I’ve heard the name elsewhere.”

The nurse shifted about on her hard-soled shoes and moved away from the bed to busy herself with other things out of Cecil’s view. “I’ll have you know that I am not stuck in this medbay, nor this block at all times. You’ve perhaps heard my name or seen me… in the cafeteria?”

“Is that so?” Cecil hummed. He blinked his eyes. With his free hand, he reached up and felt at his face. The skin under his touch was leathery and tender. His hair bristled all along the back of his head and neck from being cut short, like it had been in the past. “Nurse?”

“Yes, Mr. Ruiz?”

“How bad off am I?”

Maria snuffled. “As I said, your physical condition is back to normal.”

“I… see. The… the project—“ The thought returned to Cecil’s mind suddenly.

“Whatever project you were involved in, I imagine, can wait.”

Cecil attempted to get his eyes to focus on the bright lights glowing on the ceiling above. He couldn’t remember the details of the project, but only that it was important. “Nurse…”

“Cecil, I’ll ask you to continue to rest. You need time for the medication to exit your system.”

“Am I… out of commission?”

Maria let out a low, sorrowful sigh, and clacked her shoes back to the side of the hospital bed. “No. And if it were my decision, I would say that you will be clear shortly, but… you’ve yet be evaluated by the others.”

“The others?”

“I will speak no more, Mr. Ruiz. I… I’m sorry. Rest, please.”

Cecil bit at his lip. The skin was tight and dry. In his peripheral vision was a tube dangling down from an elevated sack of saline. The individual drips seemed to gleam in the bright light as they descended the clear line and into his body. He began to drift off again, while the nurse felt at his arms and pulled on his legs and listened to the sounds of his insides still seeming to work as they should deep inside his chest. Some minutes later, the lights dimmed to their lowest setting, and the nurse’s footsteps trailed off.


Cecil

Cecil

“Cecil— ”

The whoosh of the medbay doors came to his ears. It was the sound of them closing. The light was at a level slightly higher than halfway.

The sound of his name wasn’t them calling for him, but rather discussing him, his condition. There was the UK accent, from Agrippa, and the low southern drawl from Markus, and a third voice. The voice was from a large man on the edge of his vision. Cecil had heard the voice before, but the stout body of the man it belonged to was nothing he could recall in any form.

“You just tell me what you think. I trust your opinion.” the large voice spoke, then trailed off out the loud doors.

The footsteps of the other two closed in on the bedside. Cecil feigned sleep. “Cecil,” Agrippa called his name.

“Yes?” He mumbled.

“Did we wake you? If you’re up to it, there are some things we want to ask you about.”

The IV in Cecil’s arm lodged itself deeper as he attempted to sit up, his eyes flickering open. “I… want to know… too.”

The creak of the stool being pulled up to the edge of the bed echoed about the compact room. “Here. Have a seat, Agrippa.”

Cecil focused on the dark man behind Agrippa, the drawl belonging to Markus.

“Thanks. Cecil— maybe you can tell us better now what you remember from… the time down there. Now that the drugs have worn off.”

“Down there…”

“In the old lava tube.”

“The drill… it was heavy.”

“You took off your helmet,” Markus spoke up, a wariness in his voice.

“I took it off? Outside… the station?”

Agrippa cleared his throat. “Do you have any idea of why you did that, Cecil?”

“It was… hot.”

Agrippa hummed and glanced back at Markus. The dark man shook his head, arms folded to his chest. “Cecil, your… suit was compromised. It was my fault… a seal along the base of the helmet. Your O2 recycler began to take in heat from the outside. Let the heat inside your suit. In any other situation…”

“That’s enough, Mark. This wasn’t any other situation. Has the nurse spoken to you further yet, Cecil?”

“Hypoxia?”

“Your suit depressurized when you removed your helmet. Luckily we had the spare tank to get it back to normal. Markus managed to get the water out of your lungs, too.”

Cecil blinked his eyes and sat up further. The cold air met with his bare shoulders as the blanket slid down his front. “Water? Water…”

The older man leaned forward on the stool. “Do you remember?”

“The shimmer…”

“You were the first to notice it, shining off the light of your lamp. I don’t know what you were thinking then, but… you fell into it. To say we were surprised is an understatement.”

“Of all places to drown, a planet with no surface water,” Markus huffed.

Cecil glanced at the dark man and held his breath. He averted his eyes to the blanket before him.

“Long story short, Cecil,” Agrippa paused, pulling his attention back, “even though we got you breathing again, you were out for a long time. We had no idea we would get… the same person back to us. But the fact that you’re here and speaking with us now means a lot.”

The nurse’s loud shoes clacked across the floor. Her blurry silhouette in the white uniform had been leaned against the far counter, but Cecil hadn’t noticed until then. “In case you don’t remember… we treated you for heatstroke, mild facial burns, acute hypoxia, and… bruised ribs. Agrippa is right, though. The fact that you’re speaking to us now means a great deal.”

“Long term, though…” Agrippa shook his head.

“Long term, yes.” Maria nodded. “Only time will tell. And your own words and actions, Mr. Ruiz.”

Cecil nodded and rubbed at his face. The skin was still dry and taught and tender. No matter who he looked at, or how long he focused, none of the other’s features would come into focus. The faces, though, only seemed to look down at him.

“Perhaps we can clear up one last thing, Cecil,” Agrippa paused, “Can you tell us about your Prosopagnosia? If you are comfortable with speaking of it.”

“Such a word.” Markus fussed, “The one way to say that you’re the smartest one in the room.”

“I don’t mind.” Cecil complied.

Agrippa leaned on his knees and stared at the floor. “I’m intrigued, to be honest, if that is the right feeling. Before asking to take you with us, Martinez said that you were peculiar… shy he might have described you. After… the incident, I couldn’t help but wonder. I didn’t mean to pry into your file. It also helped me to explain it to Markus here.”

“You said… face blindness,” Markus spoke up, head shaking.

“Ever since I was young.” Cecil nodded. “I’ve never been able to… see people’s faces as they are. Nothing but a blur for me.”

“And Markus believed that you were snubbing him.”

“I was never able to make friends as a kid. I couldn’t tell anybody apart.”

“I’m sorry for what I said. But the fact that you made it to the Navy, too.” Markus spoke up. “How did you manage that, making sure you’re following rank?”

Cecil shook his head. “Honestly… it’s easier to look at insignia and decide who to salute. Commanding officers don’t care if you know their name or face, as long as you follow rank and orders and don’t make any mistakes. If anyone complained… my disability was on file.”

“You’ve outdone yourself, Cecil,” Agrippa praised.

Cecil stared at his hands, barely in focus in his eyes. “The project… we were getting… core samples.”

Agrippa straightened up. “That’s right, Cecil. I’m glad you remember. Because… Markus and I had to carry you back out, we didn’t get the one we came for. But I promise you, we’ve been busy since then. We went back with another person from systems and extracted another sample, got it and the drill back. The area is a prime location.”

“A prime location…”

Markus leaned on the edge of the bed by Cecil’s legs, hands on the metallic guard rail. “The only question is of that… aquifer down there.”

“Still running tests,” Agrippa assured them.

Cecil tried to examine the older man’s face. “The water…?”

“Another peculiarity.” The older man shrugged. “It’s not my field of expertise, but I suspect we will have the science department testing it to let us know if it is usable… even drinkable, maybe. At the very least, from your exposure… we know there is nothing plainly toxic about it.”

The nurse cleared her throat. Agrippa caught sight of her frown and changed the subject. “My department intends to take scans and put together a simulation of how may have formed. The lava tube system down there is quite the natural marvel, but the pool— or aquifer or whatever— is something unique on its own. There is also talk of having a station down there.”

The sight of the tunnel and the shimmering pool and the feeling of the cold water washing over him returned to Cecil in a sudden wave. The air caught in his chest, and the pain in his sternum forced him to hold it for longer than was comfortable. When reality caught back up to him, he noticed the gazes centered on him.

“Are you okay, Cecil?” Markus asked.

“Tired… just tired.”

Maria clapped her hands. “We should put any further talk on hold for today, then.”

Agrippa nodded slowly and picked himself up from the stool, passing it in front of him back to where it had originated. “Understood. Cecil…?”

“Huh?”

“You focus on getting your strength back.”

“I… will do that.”

Markus exited first through the noisy door without another word, and Agrippa followed after. Cecil settled back and pulled the blanket back up over his shoulders. The nurse was at the opposite side of the room, fiddling inside an open cabinet. When she turned back around, a square sealed pouch was held in her grasp.

“I need to apply this to your skin, Mr. Ruiz,” she said, beginning without waiting for his response.

Her cool fingers and the cold cream made contact with his skin “Maria.”

“Do you intend to wear out my name, Mr. Ruiz?” She said jokingly.

“You spoke of my evaluation.”

“I did.”

“What if I don’t pass?”

“What if you do?” She said back.

Cecil shut his eyes as her dainty fingers danced over his brow. “What do you mean?”

“Never mind. Pay no attention to my words. The evaluation is not something worth worrying about, at least for this moment.”

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