Half an Hour
by CritterKeeper


I can never admit to anyone how I feel about this job. I feel like the keeper of the tigers at the zoo. In close contact every day with a creature that could, without warning, decide to rip my arm off just for the hell of it. I don't think I'd have taken this job if I'd known the full risk I was running.

I glance up as he enters my lab, keeping my face carefully neutral. Show no fear, isn't that what keepers of dangerous creatures are taught? I greet him calmly. I've taught him to sit in a certain place, to present his arm so that I can draw blood and give injections, just like they teach apes in the zoo. Apes are dangerous creatures, too, for much the same reasons.

The first thing I do as he walks in is look him in the eyes, make sure there isn't any sign of dilated vessels, of scleral injection or hemorrhage. His eyes are still normal, for now.

Keeping my tone light, but in control, we banter. I never let anything slip that could be used against me if the worst should happen, as it's happened so many times already. Not my full name; even his learning my first name was a mistake that I have long regretted. Not my hopes or dreams, and especially not my fears. Nothing that could possibly give him a hint of what's going on inside me, give him a weapon with which to hurt me.

The monitor is three segments green. A full monitor gives him a minimum of half an hour of sanity, so 70% gone means he is less than ten minutes away from becoming the worst kind of sociopath. If he were to quicksilver completely, right now, within five minutes he'd be starting the descent.

They have no idea how closely I watch the clock when I know he's due for an injection of counteragent.

Last week, they called me out again, armed with only a syringe, to face him down and somehow get close enough to get the needle into a vein without getting killed or worse in the process. The bruises haven't faded yet. The only advantage to such a close call is that he's usually better about getting his injections on time for a few weeks. But that doesn't really matter, since any use of quicksilver speeds the descent unpredictably.

I slide the needle, bevel side up, into his skin just over the vein, angling down towards it. It's a good thing he has such easy veins, and he doesn't form too much scar tissue, but eventually we're going to run out of accessible sites for injection. I try to vary my choice to delay that time, give each vein time to heal before using it again. And I save the jugular only for emergencies, although if there are enough of those, we may still lose that site as well. I shudder to think of having to find a vein amid track marks while the madness rages.

A flash of blood in the hub of the needle tells me I'm in, and I advance just that tiny bit more to get the tip fully into the vein. Then I slowly depress the plunger, watching for any sign of extravascular swelling. It has to go directly into the bloodstream, which is a terribly foolish way to design such a control system.

When the entire dose is safely within him, when the monitor is completely green, only then do I relax. It is such a relief. I know that, even if he were to quicksilver for the entire time, I now have half an hour of freedom. Half an hour of safety, of not having to wonder whether an insane invisible monster is creeping up on me.

I know that I would be his primary target. Arnaud has vanished and he'd have no place to start looking, while I'm almost always here, on my own, focused on my work and oh so easy to sneak up on. When the madness is upon him, he resents my control of him, resents the pain and fear he endures, blames me for keeping him.

Some day, he will come looking for me, and I won't be ready. I can't stay ready, on all fronts, twenty-four hours a day. And other than this half-hour of safety, he could come any time, any day. There have been too many close calls already, and there are bound to be more of them in the future. Some day, they'll slip, or I'll slip, and he'll have his chance, and he'll take it.

But not for half an hour.