(Prequel to ANGELS which appeared on the * Uncharted Waters* website)
"Locks are down. Three minutes from decontamination…" Droned the computer from the speakers just over his head. As he hit his bloodied hand on the sealed door he cursed the events that had trapped them here. In the whole, cheap second-rate complex the speakers were the only things now working.
"Locks are down. Two minutes fifty-nine seconds from decontamination." Paul Jordan looked at his hands that were running with blood and he cried in frustration at the locked door. Trapped in a burning building, with his wife slowly dying at his side. The computer that was trapping them both counting down how many seconds they both had to live.
"Locks are down. Two minutes fifty-five seconds from decontamination." Jordan shot up awake in his bed. For a few seconds his mind was a haze of past and present. Each night he had the same nightmare. Each night the clock counted down a bit more. Sometimes he even wondered just how he had got out alive. It had been six months since he had joined the Nelson Institute. Six months since he had left NASA to escape his past. But no matter where he went the nightmare that haunted his dreams was always the same.
"Locks are down…" He tried to forget the toneless voice of the computer. Tried to forget the flames getting ever closer as he cradled his dying wife in his arms. "Locks are down…" He had been told he had been lucky to have survived the accident that had killed Angela his wife. Each night the countdown and the flames changed, getting ever closer. Sometimes he even doubted his own sanity. It was coming to the stage that he just did not want to go to sleep.
"Locks are down…NO!" His mind screamed at him. "Not again." He would not be getting any sleep tonight. It was a very good thing that when he had moved back to Santa Barbara he had brought a beachfront property. He would take a walk and consider all of his options.
He was beginning to doubt everything. Had he made the right choice by joining the Institute? Should he ridden out this storm at NASA? Had he just been running away from his demons by coming home to Santa Barbara?
Sam Westmore was not having a very good day. He knew the risks when he had been given the post at the Institute parking lot. The Seaview’s Captain was well known for his FPP (Fast Parking Procedure). Closely followed by the XO Chip Morton. Now through, he was finding a new culprit. One that was based at Santa Barbara more than away on Seaview.
"Does this invalidate my insurance?" was all that he could ask as he reported this to his Chief.
Stu Riley was worried for his old friend Paul Jordan. They had met a few years ago at a surfer’s rally just up the coast and had hit it off from day one. He remembered the day well. Paul and his wife Angela, some sort of NASA scientist, whose work went right over Riley’s head, had also competed in the rally. It had been extremely fun at the time watching the risks that the Jordan’s took with their surfboards and it had made him wonder, if not slightly worry, if Paul ever tried to take a space shuttle in such directions. They had kept in touch afterwards, meeting up when either of them were on shore leave at the same time. Then there had been the accident. Even now it was clouded in secrecy. He could tell that Paul was a shadow of his former self and he was worried about him.
There was almost thirteen years between them and sometimes even Stu Riley wondered how his friendship with the new NIMR test pilot Paul Jordan had lasted over the years. The last few days for instance Stu could tell that his friend was getting depressed over something. Something was troubling the man but could he get it out of the man, no way. He had tried everything and had even offered to test their newly designed surfboard. Now that should have got some reaction after the last time Jordan had seen Riley surf he did not know which came back in the worst condition, him or the board. All that Paul had just told him that it would be in his office by 3pm and he could pick it up anytime after that. He had almost come to the opinion that hitting Paul over the head with the board was the only way to get to the heart of the matter.
That was none too subtle, but sometimes Paul had to be reminded that when he needed someone to talk to, he was there. That was what friends were for. Riley was sure that since the death of his wife Paul had built a wall. Jordan thought that it would protect him, all it had done was isolate him from his friends. Riley knew that Jordan needed a friend right now. He looked like hell; he was tired he was depressed he was irritable.
Riley tried to think back to what could have triggered Paul’s dark thoughts. But the only thing that Riley remembered overhearing a bit of conversation between Captain Crane and Chip Morton….
"He did what to Sam Westmore?" asked Chip with a smile on his face.
"Almost sacred him to death, so I’ve been told," replied the Skipper with a grin on his face.
"Well look’s like we're in the clear for at least a week. The Admiral should employ more test pilots. Security’ll love them."
No, Riley dismissed that conversation. Jordan’s fast driving was like his flying, almost instinctive. If only he could break down this wall and find out what was really troubling his friend. To get to this depression. Riley wondered just how long Jordan had even managed to hide it even from him. It had become second nature for Paul to hide it from the out-side world. But now Riley knew it was there and he was determined to do something about it. The Seaview crew were about to start shore leave and most of the crew had already left the boat. But after his conversation with Paul he had decided to come back to have a talk with Doctor Jamison. If he could not get through this wall then just maybe Doc would be able to help.
Doc could tell by the way that Seaman Riley was hanging on the Sickbay door that there was something troubling the young man. They had just reached home after a long mission and most of the crew had started a weeklong shore leave, but he could tell from Riley’s stance that he was nervous.
"Come on in Riley. What can I do for you?" said Doc, trying his best to reassure the young sailor. Doc knew Stu Riley well and there was definitely something bothering him.
"It’s not me, Doc," said Riley. "I’ve come for advice about how to help an old friend."
Together they would help Paul to break down the wall of fear and to face the demons of his past. Not to be trapped in the past, but look to the future. And Riley knew that that future was most defiantly at the Nelson Institute. For that was where Jordan’s friends were and they would stick by him.
Admiral Harriman Nelson read the report about their newest recruit Test-Pilot Paul Jordan. For his short career at NASA he had shown much promise. Then there had been the exchange program with the Russians and the accident. It had been a very traumatic experience for the young man. An experience very hard to forget. He had just had a very long talk with Doc Jamieson about what should be done next. They had two options open to them, the best Nelson thought, was to give Jordan so much work to do that he would be too tired to even think about Star City. Day or night. Yes, they would work him through this and the plan was that Jordan would hardly notice.
It had now been nine months since Paul Jordan had joined the Nelson Institute, and he had been so busy with one of the Admiral’s pet projects that he had no time to think of anything else. FS1 was having engine modifications fitted with vertical lift off thrusters so it could be taken off or landed in a tighter area.
It was strange when he thought about it. For the last three months he had been so busy with FS1 that he had not thought about the accident, even in his dreams. It had happened he would always remember, but now it was not trying to take over his life. He was now living in the present not in the past and now as he came in from a days work completely shattered he was looking forward to a good nights sleep.
Stu Riley was a relieved man. His friend was as back as he had remembered him. The wall of depression had gone and as he walked back towards Seaview he could not help but smile.