Her Smile (Chris N.)

An introspective piece on Aiden White

For what little he can remember of his life, Aiden White has always tried to do the right thing. He threw himself into his job in the health department, determined to save as many lives as he could. He was never good with people, and he never made the effort to change that. He would just do his job, saving lives day in and day out, so that others could live happy, full lives. He did this without thought for his own wellbeing or happiness. It’s what he derived his happiness from. A co-worker of his had once joked that he’d stop eating and sleeping if he didn’t need his energy to do his job, but it had hit a little too close to home and the matter had been dropped.

That had all changed with the formation of the ACTP. At first he’d been overwhelmed, forced to work with so many people for the good of the ship, he had no idea what to do. This was something he couldn’t just throw his medical skill and knowledge of the ship at.

And slowly, he started to open up. He was no less devoted to saving people, but he gradually began to see that he could do more than just save a person’s life or keep them safe.

He could make them happy. Sometimes by doing his job, sometimes by going above and beyond, and sometimes with nothing but a kind word. And after denying himself of them, Aiden finally had friends.

He still remembers sitting dazed in the literal bomb site of a clinic in Blackout, Templar jokingly mocking his reckless tendencies as he patched up their injured legs. He remembered the sense of camaraderie that can only come from escaping a life threatening situation and the friendship that grew from there.

There was also Piers, a man whom he should by all means hate, but ended up befriending. He remembers the involuntary laughter that passed his lips as Piers once described his job as, “Like what you do, but in reverse.” Piers had also been the first to catch on to Aiden’s unhealthy disregard for his own wellbeing, and their more serious discussions usually ended up being strangely philosophical.

He remembers the time Varian offered her own blood when any other method of curing the plague that kept him trapped under quarantine proved useless, and how happy he’d been to be able to pay her back when she came to him for help.

There were even good times with Chloe, his estranged sister. He remembers the genuine concern she’d shown when he’d been stuck under quarantine, and the time they’d just been able to sit down for drinks and let her gush about her new boyfriend.

He remembers helping Alloy, Ferrous and Indium with their addiction. He remembers Indium screaming and raging at him while he just stood there and took it before she collapsed on him. He’d had a broken leg at the time and nearly collapsed himself, but the pride he’d felt for her when she’d finally kicked the addiction made it all worth it.

He even holds a fondness in his heart for his memory of Posi, a colleague and once tentative friend.

And most of all, he remembers Callie. He can still see the smile and heartfelt thanks she gave after he’d helped patch her up. That smile taught the joy that he could know by helping others, rather than just using the purpose it gave him to fill the gap where his memories were. He remembers the time spent with her, sometimes not even having to say anything. He remembers just sitting there with her in silence after the accident that caused so many deaths in his home sector, and the comfort it brought.

He still doesn’t know when or even how he came to love her. And for all the progress he’d made in socialising and making friends, this wasn’t something he could really understand. So he stayed quiet. He kept his emotions bottled up and just let himself be content to be there for her and help her as he always had.

For a time, he was happy. He had friends. He was helping people. He was saving lives.

It wasn’t enough.

The harsh truth was that happiness was fleeting, and for all the good times there were twice as many bad just waiting to press in.

The start of it all was learning that Posi was a ticking time bomb, a basket case waiting to happen on the Computer’s whim. And happen it did. Aiden had since taken to looking over his shoulder whenever he could, even though nothing happened for some time.

Then came the sickness which had been spreading through Blue Sector. He, Nemo and Posi had been tasked with finding a cure by computer. He can still vividly remember Summer Blue’s visor being suddenly painted red from the inside as she’d coughed up her own blood. They were given three days to find a way to eradicate the disease or all infected areas would be irradiated and they would be recycled.

It hadn’t been enough time. Nemo had found something, a powerful antibiotic that could kill the disease, but would likely kill the person it was administered to as well. Had there been any other way they’d have taken it. Maybe with more time they’d have found something, but it was already running out. Aiden had designed the delivery system, effectively a way to gas the occupants of the chambers. And so the three found themselves standing there with gas masks among those dying painfully, screaming for help as Aiden and Nemo begged the Computer to do something.

Aiden killed sixteen people that day. The man who only wanted to save lives and never wanted to see anyone suffer had been forced to kill them and watch as they died in agony.

Aiden still hasn’t forgiven Computer for that. Or himself, for that matter.

As if to rub salt in the wound, Veta Stapel, a friend of Varian’s and a patient Aiden had meant to be doing psychiatric therapy for had committed suicide. Varian was in equal parts torn up and suspicious, and Aiden felt like floor had just opened up beneath him before he’d even had a chance to help.

After that the whole mess with Toroid 6 started up. After the Delta Vee Inversion, a group including Varian, Templar and Callie had been captured and were being held in a part of the ship nobody even knew existed until then. Worse, Callie’s leg was mangled beyond repair and there was absolutely nothing Aiden could do when she most needed it.

When they’d finally been released a month later he’d never felt so relieved. Seeing Callie back on her feet, shiny new cybernetic leg and all, he could hardly contain his elation, until he realised something. Templar had not come back.

Aiden still remembers the feeling like ice water washing over him as Varian told him he’d been gunned down trying to escape. His friend, who’d never had a bad word to say to him and whose presence Aiden had always taken for granted as the two sat trading stories and barbs with Piers, was gone. No great last exploit, just gunned down in the back by turrets as he tried to escape a captivity he’d have been free from if he’d just waited anyway.

It just seemed so pointless.

Templar’s death had hit him hard, but Aiden was determined to keep going, and for a time it worked. He’d been able to help Varian with the hallucinations she’d been suffering from, and when Alloy Blue had learned the hard way what happens when you overdose on powerful stimulants, he’d been able to not only get her off the Caff-3, but had managed to help her older sisters, Ferrous and Indium, get over a long standing Caff-2 addiction.

He was back in his element, and he was helping people the way he best knew how, but no matter how many people he helped, it never seemed like enough. The ship was going crazy, everyone having different opinions about what to do about Toroid 6 and the mess in Blackout. He’d had to treat the Captain after she’d been beaten unconscious by Hades, only to find her smashing his equipment as soon as his back was turned. Then there was the issue of landing and/or splitting the ship, which had just set everyone against each other again.

What made it worse for Aiden was his sister. She’d been seeing someone from Blackout for a few months, and the man, Darren, apparently needed someone’s ID chip to be able to visit her freely. Aiden had refused, not having it in him to screw up someone’s life like that but that had just led to Darren ‘accidentally’ killing some poor soul to take his chip, and when Chloe found out, the blowout was spectacular. She’d raged at Aiden and accused him of wanting to keep the couple apart. She never let him get a word in and had managed to open up an old wound on both him and Nemo with the screamed admonishment, “Who kills someone by accident?” But what had really done it was the last thing she said before storming off.

“You are not my family!”

It had left Aiden stunned. He didn’t know if Chloe was just angry or if there was actually some truth to it, but it was something he’d always suspected. With the antipathy Chloe had always held towards him, his lack of memories and the complete lack of family resemblance, it was something he’d sometimes suspected, but it had never mattered before. In a sense, it still didn’t, but Chloe’s rant had set something off, and Aiden came to realise something.

It is impossible to do the right thing.

In the face of everything he’d done, people were still dying, and no matter how much he tried to make people happy, all he could see was strife. Everything he did, everything he said…

It all just seemed so pointless.

Nothing seemed to matter anymore. He kept doing his job and going through the motions, but nothing seemed to satisfy. He’d run for head of health because it was expected at that point. The Captain wanted to make sure Posi didn’t get the position, so he’d done what he could, calling in favours, smiling emptily as he made nice with the department.

He narrowly made it, but it was a hollow victory. It meant nothing to him at this point, and even the news that his sister had been kidnapped and the Computer was drugging him had little impact at that point. Congratulations fell on deaf ears, and with everything he’d built his life on looking more and more like a lie, nothing seemed to matter.

The next ACTP meeting was what finally sent Aiden over the edge. It wasn’t the chaos, the arguments, or even people dying, but some kind words from an old friend. Varian had realised something was very wrong and was determined to do what she could to help.

He still remembers what she said.

“You know, things may seem hard, and I know everything’s a bit crazy right now, but it doesn’t have to be like this. You’ve done so much to help everyone on this ship, and now look where you are. You’re head of health! You can do so much good, I know you can!”

She starts off quietly but is only just short of shouting by the end of it. And for all his negativity…

“I can, can’t I?”

…Aiden believes her. He remembers why he did what he did. He remembers a time when simply saving someone or helping them through a difficult time was enough.

And he breaks.

Young and idealistic meets old and bitter, and Aiden cannot bear what he’s become. A man who just wanted to see people happy had given up on ever seeing it again. Someone for who caring for others had defined life had been overcome by hate for everything around him. He’d left his own sister to the wolves, and now doesn’t even know where she is or what could be happening to her. He’s not even told his father.

In the year he’s able to remember, Aiden has never hated anyone as much as he hated himself in that moment. That was the Aiden that Callie found not long after.

“Hey.” Aiden looks around to see Callie’s wheelchair bound form, cybernetic leg missing, and his heart swells and breaks at the same time. Her presence in his life is like the light of a star in the blackness of space but he simply cannot imagine her having anything but contempt for him if she knew the kind of person he’d allowed himself to become. His distress must be apparent on his face, because Callie simply looks at him with a comforting smile.

“You know I’m here for you, right? If you ever need to talk, I’d be happy to.”

“You’ve always been there, haven’t you?” Aiden smiles, while forcing himself not to cry. “I’ve never really said how much I appreciate it. But there’s still something I can do for you. Let’s get you fixed up and back on your feet.”

“Thank you,” she replies, and her smile reminds Aiden of happier times, of the joy of serving the person he loves. He once again has to fight back tears as he says what he does next.

“Things are still pretty crazy, so let’s just hope you don’t end up needing any more of my services after this, okay?”

Aiden and a team of engineers were able to replace Callie’s cybernetic leg, and while it’s a woefully poor parting gift, Aiden just doesn’t have it in him to live any longer. Maybe if things with Callie had turned out differently, if he’d actually been able to tell her how he feels for her even now, he’d have been able to push through this, but at the same time he has no desire to inflict himself and his self-loathing on her or anyone.

He’s done his best to set thing up so that if anyone takes the fall for his death, it will be Posi, in some last ditch effort to keep the department safe from a madman.

And that brings us to now.

He’s floating in the core, protected from the vacuum by only a pressure suit. He can see his eyes reflected in the faceplate, bloodshot as they are. For a second he imagines he sees other faces, those of his friends, looking back at him.

Piers is the first to speak, Aiden remembers the words he once spoke in an effort to cheer him up.

“Some things are inevitable, regardless of whether good people act to the best of their ability.”

“You said it,” Aiden can’t help but reply with a wry smile, and it’s peaceful rather than bitter. Piers continues.

“Chin up, move on. You're doing your best; there's nothing more you can do.”

“Maybe,” Aiden mutters, but hearing the voice gives him strength. And he kicks off down the length of the core. As he flies, weightless, another face, accompanied by another voice speaks, again with words from the past.

“You’ll be there to fix me up, right?”

“Varian,” his voice is bitter and sorrowful this time, “I’m so sorry.” He can’t hold the tears back anymore, and doesn’t have to now that he’s alone. He never did get the chance to tell her that.

He’s almost at the exhaust, and he turns off his air supply to quicken the process. His eyes close as he passes through the exit, glowing from the exhaust gases, and crying freely now as his thoughts turn to Callie.

“I never did tell her,” he whispers brokenly to himself. “If I could just see her smile one… more…” his strength is fading and his mind is starting to black out. He’s dying, and despite his earlier conviction he’s never regretted anything more than dying without telling her.

He’s barely there anymore, and as his life leaves him he weeps for what could have been.

There’s a moment of complete silence, and he knows it’s the end.

“You know I’m here for you right?”

Aiden’s eyes snap open and he can barely comprehend what he sees. The stars are out, but in his mind’s eye they are outshone by the person smiling in front of him. His tears are still flowing, but he can’t contain the joy in his heart, even as it’s beating slows to a stop.

“Callie, I…”

Aiden White died with a smile on his face, weeping tears of joy as he was finally able to say to her what he was never able to in life.

“Callie, I love you.”

fic/aiden.txt · Last modified: 2013/03/05 13:11 by gm_jonathan
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