Prosperous: Chutes & Ladders

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Chapter 16

TRU PULLED BLANKETS TIGHTER AROUND HIM. THE VOMITTING HAD SUBSIDED as a fever and chills set in. He didn’t understand how the premonitions affected his body. After a couple minutes he came back tired and thirsty, but more than two minutes and his body reacted as if he’d come caught the influenza virus. Since no doctor he knew was willing to help figure out what the premonitions were physically doing to him, he was at the merce of his sparce medical knowledge; so far it wasn’t giving him any answers.

“What’s my temperature?” Tru asked Gracie.

It’s holding at one-hundred and three. Shall I request Doctor Q’al or Doctor Lareshth?

Tru shook his head. “I don’t want them to know. Is Anderson arrested?”

They caught him holding a weapon to Tobbin’s head. He’s in the Brig now.

Tru shivered. “Good,” he whispered.

His doorbell beep.

“Who is it, Gracie?”

Ensign Rhoades.

“Send her away.”

The door opened.

“No. I said…” Tru shivered, closing his eyes tight.

Jackie walked up to him, staring at him for a long moment.

“What, Rhoades?” Tru asked.

Jackie walked off without a word.

“Jackie?”

She didn’t answer.

“Jackie, what are you doing?”

There was no answer.

“Gracie, what is she doing?”

She’s in your bathroom. There are no video or audio sensors.

Tru started to get up. Jackie came around the couch and pushed him back down. She sat down on the edge of the couch, folding a wet washcloth in thirds. She placed it on his forehead and smoothed it out. Tru closed his eyes. The coolness felt good against his hot flesh. He opened his eyes when she laid her fingers against his cheek.

“You’re burning up. What’s wrong with you, Tru?”

“Sir, and I’m just a little under the weather.”

“A little under the weather doesn’t give you a fever like this and make you white as a sheet. Gracie, which doctor is on duty now?”

Doctor Lareshth is on duty.

“I’m fine. I’ll be fine.” Tru closed his eyes.

“Stop being so captain-like, Truman.” Jackie scolded. “Gracie—”

“It is sir,” Tru hissed.

He looked up when he felt air on his face and looked right into Jackie’s eyes. She had leaned over, her lips almost brushing his. “I’m no doctor, but even I can see you really need one, so I’m calling Doctor Lareshth, and you are going to lie here, and that’s the way it is going to be.”

“Bad girl side?” Tru asked.

She smiled. “Jackie really likes you. I’m indifferent.”

“I thought that after the Brig you’d both hate me.”

“We don’t hate you. You asked us to keep a secret and we didn’t.” Jackie sat up with a shrug. “We’re sorry.”

“So you came by to say sorry?”

“No. I came by to thank you for saving Austin. We grew up in the same Silerium orphanage. We’re not the best of friends, but we’re close. So thanks, Truman.”

“Why can’t you address me properly?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Jackie sat back, brushing hair out of her face. “Gracie, call for Doctor Lareshth, and if you’re smart, you’ll ignore him if he tries to belay it.”

Compliance.

“Gracie—” Tru sighed. His head was starting throb. He reached up and turned the washcloth over.

“I’ll go get you some water,” Jackie said. “Don’t go all man on me and try to get up, okay?”

“All man?”

Jackie chuckled, making Tru smile. She gave his hand a squeeze before leaving his side.

Tru closed his eyes, letting his mind drift. He recalled how his ex-husband never took care of him like this when he was sick. His memory drifted back to the last time he’d seen Phillip.


Tru picked a shirt up from the couch and thrust it into the open duffel bag on the chair next to him. He zipped it shut and turned. Across the living room a man a year older than him stood at the windows, staring at the dark streets forty stories below. From the apartment the skyline of Austin, Texas was a band of orange lights reflecting off the overcast sky. Tru walked up behind him, reaching for the man’s muscular arm. The man sidestepped from Tru’s touch.

“Phillip, can’t we talk about this?” Tru asked.

“There isn’t anything to talk about,” Phillip spat.

Tru let out an exasperated sigh. He grabbed Phillip’s wrist before he could pull away. Phillip yanked back, facing Tru.

“I told you, Tru. Space or me, you can’t have both.”

“Phillip, this is crazy! How can you want to divorce over this? I—”

“Merchant Raitor stints last six months to a year! You’ll be light-years from Earth! Why couldn’t you just keep practicing and stay here on Earth? I would have even gone to Mars or Titan if you’d taken a position there. At least I’d be home for the holidays.”

“I can’t, Phillip. I thought I would be content to stay on Earth and practice, but… I grew up in space and I need more than a few trips to the other planets now and then. I need space.”

“Well, at least you won’t have a husband to tie you down while you have your space.”

Tru didn’t want to let this happen, but the urge to take to the stars was so strong he couldn’t ignore it anymore. Until now, his attempts to talk to Phillip about it had resulted in his husband blowing the issue out of proportion. Phillip would disappear for days, wouldn’t answer Tru’s calls, and when he came back, he’d pretend like nothing had happened. He couldn’t seem to understand that Tru felt like he was suffocating by staying on terra firma, any terra firma.

“Phillip, I won’t sign the papers. We aren’t getting divorced! You’re just afraid to be alone, and that’s not even logical because—”

“Who said I was going to be alone?” Phillip crossed his arms over his chest.

Tru stepped back, understanding the unspoken. He turned, grabbed his duffel bag, and headed for the door. He stopped and spun around.

“Who is he?”

“Steven.”

“Your receptionist?”

“He hates space too.” Phillip’s glare darkened. “He doesn’t go off every other month and leave me to worry about him. He understands me, something you were never able to do.”

“Five years of marriage gone because you really can’t be alone, huh? How long have you been cheating on me?”

“Four years.”

Tru’s stomach turned. “That’s most of our marriage, Phillip. Didn’t our vows mean anything to you?”

“You vowed you’d always be there for me, and you broke your vows.” Phillip stormed up to him and jabbed his finger into Tru’s chest. “You have never been there for me! I’ve been alone for the last four years! Steven understood how lonely I was; you never did!”

“You think you’ve been alone for four years and you never thought to talk to me about it? Jesus, Phillip! I asked you to go with me on science expeditions. I asked you to join me on book and lecture tours. You always refused, even before we were married. You knew this was the life I led.”

“I figured you’d settle down once we were married. I never wanted to go traipsing across the world or space, Tru. I want a home and a family. And then you kept saying you didn’t want kids. Hell, you even hate my cat!”

“I don’t hate your cat and we never talked about kids. All I’ve ever said about kids was that I wasn’t ready for them yet. That may have changed if you’d talked to me about it. I might have stayed home. I certainly wouldn’t have joined Merchant Raitor if you had told me any of this!”

Phillip shrugged, turning away and going back to the window. “No point in talking about this now, is there?”

Tru looked at the floor, nodding. “You’re right.” Tru glared at Phillip’s back. “Because you’re not my husband. I don’t even know who you are.”

Tru turned, slamming his hand on the door controls.

“That’s your fault! You were never around to find out!” Phillip yelled.

Tru stormed out of the apartment to the elevator. He slapped his hand against the biometric pad to call the car.

Phillip ran into the hall screaming, “This is all your fault, Truman!”

Tru turned in the elevator, holding the door open. Phillip stood in the middle of the hall with his fists clenched. Down the hall a door opened and one of their neighbors poked her head out, to watch the fight.

I didn’t do this, Phillip. I didn’t cheat. I have never been unfaithful to you. Ever! I gave you everything you wanted and that just wasn’t enough, was it?”

“You never gave me you! You were never here.”

“I was here. You weren’t.” Tru dropped his hand and the doors slid shut.

“I HOPE SPACE KILLS YOU LIKE IT DID YOUR PARENTS, BASTARD!” Phillip screamed before the doors closed.

Tru closed his eyes. “First floor.”

The elevator descended. He leaned against the wall, willing his composure to hold until he could get into a hotel room and break down. He’d known something was wrong. After the first year of marriage, his empathic sense told him Phillip was lying most of the time, but he never suspected he was being unfaithful.

Tru closed his eyes tight, pinching the bridge of his nose to hold back the tears. He had never imagined this was how his marriage would end. Now he was grateful that in four days he would be in Merchant Raitor training and thousands of kilometers away from Texas and Phillip.


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