I was born in this clinic and my mother died here. Were this some melodrama, you bet she'd have died in labour, but it isn't so, she struggled two decades to feed a child she would never get to see accomplish anything.
Cancer is an excellent analogy for many things, ranging from why our society is falling apart to just why my own sickness will not be cured.
Two decades ago, this same medicae office saw a tiny pink mass of flesh and bones spawned from another, slightly larger mass of flesh and bones. With a sanctioned clinic, the malfunction both these organisms shared would have been spotted and corrected within minutes.
Life has a sick sense of humor, really; the day I found out, I had just turned twenty-four and was about to marry into a noble family from Cadia; a good way for some bastard child like me to get out of the gutter. Not love; she sees me as a pretty face with the abs of an Astarte and, more importantly, a means to get out of an arranged wedding and, well, I'm just some lower class dock loader, as nerve grating and self-centered as that bitch is, I do not intend to spit on a ticket out of the slums.
Well, not relevant now, is it?
Sitting up, I struggle back into my once-upon-a-time-white jacket. Cheap fabric feels raw on my skin, like sand paper. The clinic doesn't have air conditioning and Baria's climate control doesn't really inspire awe, it only does too hot and too cold, today's the former.
The doctor seems sorry that she can't help me. Brain tumor is too much for some underground clinic to handle. I already called my fiancé to tell her of my condition, I've known for a week now, but she seems to think cancer is some form of mutation. Our last talk ended with a goodbye and an apology, though I don't quite recall which of these two I spoke. Maybe both, maybe neither. Tumor's not taking its toll yet, but realisation is, numbing me both physically and mentally. Days go by in minutes and minutes stretch for days, depending on which phase of the whole grief pattern I'm in.
Today's flavour appears to be denial. Yesterday was bargaining, which, in hindsight, was quite funny to behold, give how utterly poor I am.
"What will you do now?" The doctor seems genuinely interested in my plans, so I answer while buttoning up my jacket.
"I saw a woman in the park the other night, she offered me lessons of something called Yoga, I have enough credits to take her up on it, then maybe I will go see my friend Lars, he is a shuttle pilot for a rogue trader ship, see if he can teach me how to fly…" Showing up to work again seems pretty much pointless now, but there's a bank account with my name and ten thousand credits in it. Enough to buy a knife, I know just the guy, then bribe my way into the Governor's palace. I know just the girl.
So, yeah, I'm lying.
With a shrug, she pulls the thick wool flap that serves as her front door and wishes me luck. She works and lives in a shack, at the heart of the city slums, that's about two kilometers from the park.
Two kilometers of people living in cardboard boxes, eating refuses and all around trying to get by and, from the looks of it, failing.
I sprint through it. No limbering up, no warm up, just full speed ahead into the rain puddles. The rain has stopped, but everything shines still; the streets, statues of past governors and even the people, dirty and beaten, months of accumulated crass washed off their faces in places. The buildings are much the same. Some of the more recent ones are melted like wax statues from a virus back before my birth, but the old ones stand proudly still, beaten up and unclean beyond any claim to dignity, but still they appear to proclaim "I meant something, I used to be more than this, I remember."
A week ago, I would have scorned the people in these gutters, now they'll all outlive me, how tragic is that?
Tears drop from the corner of my eyes. I've not cried this way since mom died, though that felt like a corkscrew was constantly tightened into my chest, this here feels like a frostbite. I'm freezing, numb all over, in spite of the suffocating heat.
I latch onto a chainlink fence twice my side and climb the thing up in a second.
It's easy, I'm in a very good shape, not only because of my job as a dock worker, but also because I spend most of my free time running around, delivering packages to people who are in too much of a hurry to wait for the postal services.
Heh, I wanted to live longer by keeping myself in shape, so much for that idea now.
My shoes soon fill with water along with the legs of my pants. It's warm as piss and not enjoyable in the least, but I'm soon drenched in sweat anyway, head to toes, to it hardly matters.
The park is actually a bit of the city that fell into disrepair a few centuries back and got overrun by vegetation and wildlife. The streets remain and weak buildings toppled or crumbled long ago, making the old ruins perfectly safe to explore for people with a lot of free time, like me.
On busier planets, dock workers can work around the clock and back before getting a pat in the back and being told to keep going; me, I get maybe two ships a week. Gave me time to hang around the "park", hunting for racoons and rabbits and save some coins on food. It's there that I met Dana, sitting on a surprisingly clean stone bench in a densely packed jungle. I spent a lot of time debating with her, about the Imperium, yes, but also about the emperor himself, whom she keeps referring to as Greene.
I could report her for heresy, but…
Okay, I don't have a logical reason not to, maybe I think she's attractive and my lower brains are influencing me, or maybe it's just that I hate the Imperium anyhow.
Not sure I hated it before meeting Dana, though…
Still, Dana always talks about better times, about freedom and equality and how fekking retarded it is to try and reconcile these two concepts. You can be free or you can be equal, you can't be both. She gives the Imperium props for not even trying, although she's mostly being ironic, I think.
Seems like idle complaining; the old ways, in so far as she's not insane and things did use to be different, don't seem to have been that much better
As always, the woman is sitting on her park bench, reading a book dating from before the heresy and smiling to herself. She always smiles. And curse, curses I really never heard anyone else use, but she's crazy, so I never call her out on it.
I stumble to a stop right next to her, suck in a few deep breath and crumble on the bench by her side. My lungs immediately feel as though they are filled with powdered glass and I start wheezing, barely holding today's breakfast in as my whole body begins to wonder if we're actually running away from something and maybe we should lighten the load, because these eggs and mashed potatoes are not exactly high-efficiency fuel.
As I bend over, coughing and spitting brown mucus, Dana raises an eyebrow but keeps quiet. "It's not that bad." I say.
Frak, of course it's not that bad, my body is slowly killing me, having an arm ripped off wouldn't be that bad to me at this point.
"Sure it's not." She scoffs, patting me on the back before retracting her hand to wipe the sweat on her pants. "What's the matter? Doc didn't have any good news?"
"It's not migraines." I confirm, trying to smile as best I can. The woods are dark and densely packed, blocking out all sounds and much of the light. It already feels like a tomb. "Won't have to worry about heating the apartment this year."
I can't remember why I came to Dana and she doesn't seem to know what I expect her to do about it either. "Pretty pathetic, isn't it?" I sneer, trying to get a glimpse of her eyes, but she's looking at her feet and all I see is twitches in her clenched jaw and her lips growing white from scowling so hard.
"What is?" She speaks through gritted teeth, more angry than sympathetic. I don't blame her; we hardly know one another, this is all some pretty heavy stuff to have dropped on you by someone you've only ever had philosophical conversations with whenever you randomly meet.
I'd leave her alone, I want to, but I can't. I tell her why just as I figure it out myself, "I'm scared, don't want to be alone, but I have always been such a bastard to everyone, you're the only person I can think of who won't tell me to sod-off."
Never had many friends… Or any friends, really. Kids would play war games which, sure, were fun for a while, but quickly got old. I preferred to wander the cathedral and ask Father Mullin about the many saints displayed there. He could tell me the same story five times and it would never be the same, but historical accuracy was never really the point. Then he was stabbed and robbed in a dark alley.
Let's not even mention my family. The only true family I had is dead now and the rest will be if I see them again before my time's up.
Not sure how much of this I said aloud, but from the look on Dana's face, it's probably too much.
Tears roll on my cheeks without warning. Not because I'm going to die, but because I wasted the short life I was granted being an absolute monster. I could have paid for my mother's treatment, worked some extra hours and skipped a few meals. I didn't; too expensive and no guarantees of success. Mullin asked me to go with him the night he died, he was distributing food in the slums and worried about being alone after dark. I made something up, too lazy to grant the old man a simple favour.
"It's one thing to know you're about to die, it's another to know it's really for the best." After I say this, Dana's eyes soften and she pulls me into a tight hug. Sweat and tears quickly drench her green sweater, but if she notices, she doesn't care.
"You're not a bad person," she whispers in my ear, like the hollow promise it is, "don't go away thinking you are, please..."
I used to think that I'd be a great guy just as soon as I could afford to, that one day I would set things right. Is it any better if I actually knew I was being a bastard?
She pulls back, eyes now sparkling and a thin smile tugging on her lips. "We are friends, Jan, you can always rely on me and I know I can rely on you." Before I can answer, she leans forward and plucks a kiss straight on my lips, lingers there a moment and… Well, that's it; either someone's turned all the lights off or I just got knocked out.