SUMMARY: Wilson looks for answers. So does House.
CHARACTERS: Wilson, House
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: The stories from this ficverse are numbered by chapter and scene. Links to all chapters are here.
Wonder of wonders: the clinic's laundry cube actually works. Wilson peels off his damp clothes and throws them in with the dirty sheets. With one hand he rubs at the back of his neck, while the other presses what he hopes are the right buttons.
As the machine hums into life, he sighs and walks out of the room. House is as clean as he's going to get; now it's Wilson's turn. There's a tiny shower stall right next to the laundry cube, but Wilson prefers comfort to convenience. He's headed for the opulent bath in the master suite.
Wilson's artificial cycle of day and night can only do so much to make him feel better. The hours drift past, empty and dry as the space all around them. House had been partly right; it's not exactly entertaining to have a grouchy, crippled vampire for a patient, but it does give Wilson something to do. He takes his lunch into the clinic, as he did the day before. Perching on his freshly-sheeted new bed, he turns the vidscreen on with the sound down low.
House doesn't even twitch.
It's only been three days since he found House, but Wilson's becoming ever more certain that his life has been irrevocably split into "before" and "after." Not before and after he stepped onto the luxury liner that would take him to Capinari. Not before and after he awoke in screaming pain on this old ship they'd hired to send him quietly home again; not even before and after he discovered that his colleagues were dead. The dividing line in Wilson's life is this long, slumbering body. The vampire he dragged out of the mud. If House can exist, anything can happen; it's as if the size of the universe has just doubled.
The universe seemed safer when it was smaller, but that illusion is gone and Wilson knows he will never get it back.
Wilson wastes four hours in the control room, pressing what seem to be all the wrong buttons on the nav console and getting progressively more frustrated. None of the tiny glyphs etched next to the buttons make any sense. Other controls are marked with terse, abbreviated codes that give no real clue as to their function. What the hell is a NAV FMC-R anyway? Or a DISCH APU? If he pushes STORM OFF, does that mean it will stop raining somewhere on the ship? Which ... is absurd, but what else could it be? He knows he could recognize a Class C starchart -- if he could get one to show up, but apparently that's not going to happen. Wilson growls in frustration. He's run a few jaunts on a dart cruiser, learned some basics, but he's not really a pilot, let alone a merchant pilot. He isn't trained for this.
Unbidden, the ancient punchline to an Old Earth joke rises in his mind -- "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not an engineer!"
Wilson had always laughed at it before, even though he'd never fully understood the history behind its humor. Now he's beginning to get the bitter payoff, and it's not funny at all.
He'd like it in here, if he could get something to work. The control room is spacious, shaped like a gentle crescent, with a solid console curving around the forward wall. Above that, a thick sheet of ThermaPlast makes a huge, seamless picture window. The view is breathtaking, really. Too bad one patch of deep space looks pretty much like any other. Without the nav system, he can admire his surroundings all he likes, but he'll never know where the hell he is.
Wilson takes a breath and presses the key marked Autonav On one more time. The monitor abruptly goes blank, and he slams his fist into the console, jarring loose a stream of code that cascades like water across the screen. The overhead lights flicker and then steady.
Wilson paces away from the console, comes back again, and finds the monitor asking him to Enter musical selection. It's showing a whole list of titles and musicians, none of them familiar. He stops himself just shy of making a random pick: what if he can't control the volume? What if he can't turn it off? There's too much potential risk.
It's time for a break and a pain pill. His head is killing him.
Wilson swallows two polyfentalide pills with a handful of water from the infirmary sink. They make a chalky trail down his throat, so he drinks a little more before splashing some water on his face. So tired, unreasonably tired.
House shifts in his sleep. There's a spot of drool on his pillow.
For a moment, Wilson wishes that he too could simply drift off, forget where he is. If he sleeps now, he'll wish he hadn't. It'll screw up the diurnal cycle he's only just begun to establish.
He can't face the navigation problem again, so he'll tackle something else. He'll go figure out what went wrong with the hybercells. When he gets home, the families will ask, and he'll need to have something to tell them.
If you get home, says a part of his mind that sounds strangely like a ... haemovore.
"When," Wilson insists, softly, on his way out the infirmary door. "When I get home."
It's weird, though. The thought of home doesn't bring half the sense of happiness that it should. Perhaps he'd been telling the truth when he told House that there wasn't much to miss about Delphus.
The hyberroom is kind of bizarre. Its cells, which have always looked to Wilson like coffins, have now become exactly that. The place is darkly elegant, like an ancient drawing-room or a modern funeral parlor. It's paneled in fine wood just like so many of the ship's other interiors, but it's barren. There's no furniture, no art, nothing but the line of cells-turned-caskets.
Wilson had the fourth one, nearest the door, set a few meters away from the other three. Its placement and design indicate that it was retrofitted, not part of the ship's original equipment. The explanation for Wilson's having lived is probably as simple as that: design differences in his hybercell slowed the lethal process. But what, exactly, did he survive?
On the wall opposite the door is one large built-in cabinet, which tastefully conceals the master cell control console. Wilson knows it's there because he used it to turn off his cell and put the other three into "nonliving occupant" mode. It's a straightforward interface, designed for use by the moderately educated, scary as that thought is.
It's a simple matter to ask for a hard copy of the cell histories. Unlike the navigation console, everything on this one is clearly marked, including the button for PRINT. Less simple is the task of deciphering the stuff once it's been printed. Wilson looks around, remembers that there aren't any chairs in here, and settles himself on the floor.
This is going to take a while.
He has lost track of time, but he thinks it's been a couple hours. Wilson rubs his forehead and stares again at the printouts in his hand. The columns of numbers bleed into one another, telling their morbid story in a foreign tongue. He's not sure why he keeps reading it again and again, when he's already certain he's got the right translation.
It was an overload of nitrogen that silently killed the sleepers. That kind of thing can happen if the regulator valves get stuck. Hybercell systems all have failsafe triggers, to detect such problems and wake the occupants before they die.
This time, the failsafe failed, too.
We won hell's lottery, thinks Wilson. What were the chances? He isn't sure if his own survival was a stroke of luck or not. Rubbing his eyes, he rests his head in his hand while he considers that question -- and decides, for probably the thousandth time, that it isn't important.
There's no such thing as luck, only chance. There's no deeper meaning, no sinister design, just an old ship with poorly-maintained equipment. He won't find any more answers in the columns of swimming numbers. With the sheaf of measured minutes curled in his hand, he gets up and heads back toward the infirmary. His head hurts again, and he left the polyfentalide in there. Along with House, who's a headache of a whole other kind.
"Bloodsucking bastard," mutters Wilson, and he feels the corners of his mouth curve upward when he says it. He shakes his head. "If that's what you're relying on to keep you sane," he murmurs to himself, "and it's working? Then you are in much worse shape than you thought."
"What's that?" demands House, the moment Wilson walks through the infirmary door.
"What? Oh. Printouts of the hybercell histories. I ... figured out why everyone died." He steps closer to the bed, holding up the papers so that House can see there's nothing on them but a bunch of numbers.
"Why everyone else died? Or why you didn't?" Leave it to House to get right to the point. "Give it here."
"I already --"
"You deaf? Give!" House snatches the papers, his hand striking with an animal quickness. Nice improvement in the patient's condition, Wilson thinks, but keeps that observation to himself.
"It's not compelling reading," Wilson says. "The plot sucks, and you already know how it ends."
"Shut up. I'm working." House's gaze is glued to the numbers, like they're the most fascinating thing he's ever seen.
"It was the gas balance," says Wilson, trying to spare House the trouble. "Nitrogen overload. My cell was newer and it --"
"You're screwing up my diagnosis. If I needed a consult, I'd ask."
"Fine. Have fun."
Wilson swallows a polyfen tablet, grabs the remote for the vidscreen, and settles heavily onto his bed.
This, thinks House, was one hell of an accident.
Wilson's right, sort of. It was a gas balance problem, nitrogen overload. But where three sets of numbers are very closely matched, the fourth set is not. At the time when the auto-wake was triggered, three of the sleepers had been dead for hours. The fourth -- Wilson -- was way behind schedule, approximately an hour away from expiring when he awoke. There has to be a reason for the anomaly.
"Tell me something."
"Hm?" Wilson's watching some inane seri-mance. Two dark-eyed women are yelling at each other, crying hysterically, apparently over someone named Alfonso. Fuck Alfonso, thinks House, and then realizes that's exactly the problem; both of these girls have done just that, and ... he can't afford to get drawn into that story right now.
"You said your hybercell was different from the others?" House asks. "You know -- in some way other than not having a stiff in it."
"Asshole," Wilson mumbles. "Yeah. Yeah, it ... had a different design. Newer. Not original equipment, and that difference is what saved my life."
"No, my ship's SOS was what saved your life. You need to go check something."
"Why? We already know --"
"We think we know. I need diagrams of the wiring, the gas conduits. It's important." It isn't really, except in the sense of relieving House's boredom, but that's important enough. Odds are that Wilson's explanation is correct, but there's a possibility House wants to eliminate. Or confirm. Either way will work for House, but it'll be a hell of a lot more interesting if he's right.
"My head hurts. It can wait."
"But I can't. You think you're miserable now? I'm crippled, pissed off and in serious pain; annoying you is the most fun I'll have today."
"You're hurting?" Wilson is suddenly paying attention. "More merstellin right now ... probably cause more nausea. If it's really bad we can put you on --"
"I'm okay right now, you idiot. Don't get so excited. Get me those schematics before I start throwing things."
"Fine," sighs Wilson, and rolls off the bed. He looks funny in his bare white feet, padding out of the infirmary to do House's bidding. I could get used to this, House thinks, and then wonders what the hell is wrong with him.
A new set of shrieking sounds makes him look again at the vidscreen, just in time to see Dark-Haired Girl Number One launch herself at Dark-Haired Girl Number Two, starting a big juicy catfight. The vid remote is way over there, on Wilson's bed; if House watches, who can blame him? He can't change the channel.
Histories for the cells are easy to get. Not so, the schematics. The cell console interface isn't designed for that kind of thing, and if there ever was an owner/operator manual, it's long gone.
Wilson turns away from the console cabinet and looks over the three closed cells. Blessedly, fog has formed inside them, so the occupants' dead faces can't be seen. He'll deal with the bodies ... later. Maybe after they get rescued, if they get rescued.
The hybercells are placed like beds, their heads flush against one wall of the room. Between Wilson's cell and the other three, there's a door in that wall. That would probably be the cylinder closet, where the gas tanks and the actual circuit regulator are discreetly tucked away. An inspection of the machinery isn't likely to tell him anything new, but if he doesn't look, House will surely ask why he didn't. Then he'll have to come back here, simply to shut House up. He may as well do it now, get it over with.
The lights come on in the cylinder closet as soon as Wilson opens the door. It all looks normal -- antique, but in good working order. The large main regulator hums quietly to itself, keeping Wilson's former shipmates in frigid, sterile stasis. The smaller regulator is idle, no longer in use because Wilson's cell is turned off, and --
He turns on his bare heel and walks out, his mind racing in several directions, none of them pleasant. Either there's a good explanation, and he's being an idiot, or ... or ... he's not. What he needs is an intelligent, impartial opinion.
He has to go tell House.