By William Cohen-Kiraly, December 2016
Prompt: A writer loses the ability to distinguish reality from the fantastical worlds of his or her stories.
Jeffrey Tripplethorn woke up aching.
His neck hurt, his back ached, when he tried to pull his feet from under the covers, they got tangled up in the sheets. He had felt fine when he went to bed the night before, but not now. A shiver of panic and confusion darted anxiously around his mind.
”Lieutenant Tripplethorn” said a deep, booming voice, “please don’t be alarmed. I know this must seem strange to you right now but i assure you, there is an explanation and things will be better soon.”
”Who are you?” Jeffrey asked, looking around but seeing little as his eyes seemed much worse than he remembered them.
”This is Dr. Horn of the Starship Encounter. We picked up your ship floating in deep space and you had been in suspended animation for 300 years. I’m afraid you’ve aged quite a bit since the last time you remember.”
”Dr. Horn, I’ve heard of you. What do you mean I’ve aged?”
”Do you see the mirror next to the viewport? Go take a look.”
Jeffrey looked around his room and saw what looked like a window on the wall. Though his eyes seemed to be playing tricks on him, he could see stars slowly moving across the view. A few feet away on a dresser was a small mirror. He got unsteadily to his feet and went over to it. He bent down—painfully—to look and started screaming at what he saw.
”Lieutenant,” said the voice, “Please calm down. I know what it must look like but remember, we have regeneration pods. Once we get you up and well, we can put you in one of the tanks and poof, you’ll be 25 again in no time. You just have to give us some time and patience.”
Jeffrey sat down in his chair heavily. He was in utter disbelief. He tried to remember how he got here. He didn’t remember being on any kind of star ship. Mostly, he remembered getting drunk the night before. Then he remembered flying and then all kinds of flashing lights. Maybe that was the starship. He remembered the IVs and the mask and being put into the big tube. That must have been his suspended animation tank. And the noise it made, the big, loud, scary humming. Then nothing.
“Oh my god, I remember now.” he said softly but Dr. Horn seemed to hear him.
”Yes, Mr. Tripplethorn, it will be alright. I’m in another part of sickbay but I’m going to send my orderly in to give you an assist. This will be André, he’s a Medical Special Operative.”
A moment later, a man walked in to the room. Jeffrey could only stare at him. He was maybe four feet tall, with a very dark complexion, and an odd gait. The man smiled and waived at him and said cheerily he was going to help Jeffrey get dressed.
It seemed odd to Jeffrey that the dresser drawers in a gleaming, new spaceship like the Encounter, would look like they were made of cheap plywood. But maybe they did that to add a homey air to the super-sleek modern design. A man could feel at home here.
André talked with Jeffrey as he helped him out of the pajamas, saying cheerful, meaningless pleasantries. But as he helped Jeffrey into the silver space jumpsuit, he whispered into his ear “I am not André the MSO, I am Rugar and I am from the planet Garfon and I’m here to pay you back for what you did to my people.”
As the strange little man said this, Jeffrey looked at him again and could see the subtle little differences that identified him as a Garf, the pointed teeth, the lumpy spine, and the reptilian skin. He knew he would never see the regeneration tanks.
Jeffrey moaned but was too scared to say anything. Somehow, he would have to let Dr. Horn know he had an alien imposter in his sickbay.
* * * *
”Oh great, André, what did you say to him this time? Now I gotta go clean his pants again.”
* * * *
“Commodore Tripplethorn,” said the young woman, “please follow me to breakfast in the Captain’s Dining Room. There has been a murder.
Jeffrey looked at the woman, her short bobbed hair, her pretty face, her white starched uniform. It took him a second but he finally placed her.
“Ensign Pennysworth. Yes, of course. I’ll follow you.”
“Your disguise, Commodore is wonderful. They will never suspect that this dottering old man is the young, virile Captain Tripplethorn.”
“Ah, yes, it is good, isn’t it?” Said Jeffrey, straightening a bit. “Now what’s this about a murder on a starship?”
”Captain Ensworth will explain. It is vital that we keep this to ourselves. No one else on the ship can know.”
“Of course, Ensign. Haven’t I always been discreet?”
She sat him down next to an old, grizzled veteran with a captain’s hat. They brought him a plate full of eggs, bacon and toast and a damnable good cup of coffee from a replicator. They were surrounded by a room full of officers.
“Captain Ensworth, it shows an extreme lack of discipline that your officers are not in uniform.”
“Ahh, it’s alright sir, we just got back from planet leave. We’ll have everyone ship-shape for your inspection by lunch.”
“Very well sir, I will be watching them very closely for my report to Admiralty. No what is it you want to talk about?”
“Ah, Commodore, there has been a murder of a human officer during planet leave. I suspect it is one of the MourMouri rebels. After breakfast, i want you to go down to MourMour and see if you can weed out the bastard who did this to my officer.”
“Can you give me details?”
The captain raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you read the files. I sent them to your station this morning.”
Tripplethorn was momentarily confused. “Well yes, but I had a busy morning. I didn’t get to read my document inbox. Give me the rundown.”
The captain leaned back in his chair “Not much to tell, really. He and several friends had dinner at the Herefords Restaurant, you know Herefords?”
“Yes, of course I do, best steaks in the Galaxy, go on.”
“Well, after dinner, the Lieutenant went for a walk in the garden alone. He still held on to that ancient custom of smoking cigars. His friends say they saw a blaster flash and heard Sparks scream. When they ran out to check on him, he had a fist sized hole in his chest. But blaster’s never leave blood. They are efficient that way.”
“Oh, yes, of course, I’ve said that many times myself.” Said Tripplethorn.
* * * *
The MaurMauri rebels were given their blasters and bandanas and told what to expect. The went into the garden, hid behind trees, sat out on the benches, tucked into niches in the garden wall. The atmosphere was festive. It was a beautiful warm spring day, a delight for people who hadn’t been outside for many months.
* * * *
The Commodore was lead to the transporter. The doors slipped open and he and the woman who brought him to breakfast stepped in and the doors slid closed behind him.
“Your blaster sir,” she said, handing him his ray gun. She held one of her own.
There was that peculiar lurching feeling as the transporter took them down to the planet surface. The doors slid open again and they walked into a glass atrium. The woman led the Commodore to a sliding glass door, tapped her pass against a card lock and they walked into the garden.
The Commodore immediately fell into a tactical stance and looked around suspiciously.
“Be very careful,” said the Ensign, “These rebels are masters of disguise. They can look like anybody.”
“I know, ensign, I have dealt with them for years.” But he seemed not to notice the woman in a wheelchair as he walked right by her until she pulled her bandana over her face, screamed a bloody war cry and started shooting at them with her blaster.
“You bloody witch.” He yelled back, taking aim and shooting her where she sat. The woman screamed in pain, clutched her chest and yelled “The Commodore has killed me! Avenge my death my brothers and sisters.” Then she dropped her blaster an laid still, her head lolling to the side.
Another man came out from behind a tree, yelling “I am Darlok, the leader of this rebellion. How dare you bring your foreign ways to our planet? We have lived in peace under the great Mauronna for thousands of years and you earthlings come and destroy it all. We will drive you from our planet.” His pistol made a curious whirring noise, sending sparks flying out everywhich way as he shot at the Commodore and the Ensign.
The Ensign howled in pain, dropped her pistol. “He got my shooting arm, Commodore, It’s up to you now.”
The Commodore reeled around and shot Darlok nearly point blank sending him around the bench and onto the ground. It was like blinders came off the Commodore’s eyes, he saw all the rebels, at least a score of them. There were young men behind trees, old women on benches, a middle-aged woman in white uniform in one of the brick lined niches in the wall, All had their bandana’s covering their faces and all were aiming for him.
Like he was in a slow-motion ballet, Commodore Tripplethorn weaved and dodged through the garden, hitting every one of his intended targets. Some died spectacularly, others just seemed to fall back where they were. He was so caught up in his battle lust, he didn’t see the woman who had just come in the gate and stood firmly in the garden path until he turned around and whirled straight into her. She was an immovable rock. Tripplethorn dropped his blaster and fell ignobly on his ass.
“What the hell is going on here?” Growled the woman, looking not at Tripplethorn but at Darlok who was picking himself up off the ground, still holding his blaster.
“Ms Donnally, such a surprise to see you here on a Saturday.”
“Yes, Derrick, it apparently is. What the hell is going on here?”
Tripplethorn was looking between the woman and Darlok/Derrick, his mouth hanging open. “How can you be standing there, I just killed you! You damned alien animal.”
“Ensign, can you take the Commodore back to the transporter and tell him about our training exercise?”
“You’ll do no such thing Meredith. I want to know what’s going on.” said the woman.
Meredith tried to help the Commodore up but he fought her every inch of the way to his feet. You could see the panic rising in his eyes. He kept trying to pull out of her grasp. His breathing was getting rapid and heaving and he started making inarticulate noises.
“Ma’am,” said Derrick, “let us take him back to his room and I promise I can explain. It won’t help anything if he has a meltdown out here.”
The woman nodded curtly and Meredith lead Tripplethorn back to the doors, trying to explain to him how they had faked a training exercise for him. “You didn’t. I know all about the MaurMauri rebels and Darlok and that is Darlok. What are you trying to do to me. What is this place?” Another one of the corpses, a bigger man, got up and grabbed his other elbow and helped Meredith lead the complaining Tripplethorne back towards the elevator in the atrium.
“Ma’am, um, well, it was his daughter’s idea.” Said Derrick to the nursing home’s brand new director.
“Really,” she said dubiously, staring down over her glasses at him.
“You know about him right? He has Korsakoff’s Syndrome. He can’t remember anything that happened since 1987. Everyday he wakes up and can’t understand why he is thirty years older than when he went to bed.
“Every morning, he used to go crazy. He would yell and scream and throw himself against the door. We had to put him in restraints and that just made it worse.
“We called his daughter, Sarah and she had an idea.”
“Is she here? Does she know what you’re doing?”
“I think she’s visited him maybe twice in the last ten years. It seems he was a mean drunk when she was growing up. She doesn’t want anything to do with him. But she brought us all his old manuscripts.”
“His manuscripts?” Asked Donnally.
“Yeah, well it seems he fancied himself a science fiction writer and he wrote like six novels and twenty or thirty short stories. They all star a guy named Tripplethorn and they are all really, really terrible stories. Even I can tell that. His daughter said he never got anything published.
“So we experimented a bit and found out he remembers his stories really well. So every day when he wakes up, we convince him he is the great space explorer Tripplethorn who got aged somehow or other and we tell him we’ll put him in a regeneration pod and he’s okay with that. We put a TV in his room with a star video and told him it’s a porthole. They didn’t have flatscreen TVs in the 1980s so he thinks it’s a window.
“Then we act out scenes from his books and he thinks he’s the Commodore and we have some fun and he gets to live the life he always dreamed of. On days like this, all the residents from the Friedlander Pavillion like to join in and its kind of a party and everyone gets to be outside and the Commodore gets some exercise.
”As long as we can keep him engaged in the stories, he stays with us for the whole day. If he sits down to rest or looses the train of the story, we have to start all over again. And we always have to start all over again every morning.”
”Was Mr. Brightman, my predecessor okay with this?“
“He knew it happened but didin’t want details”
”And the State?”
“Well no, we don’t tell the state inspectors or even the board of trustees.”
“Everyone else is okay with it?” The MaurMauri/residents and staff all nodded. One woman said “This is the most fun thing we get to do here. Better than those stupid painting parties or wheelchair aerobics.”
“I’m not sure about André though. He plays along but in Tripplethorn’s books, the really evil guys in his stories were always dwarves so I think André sometimes says stuff to wind him up.”
“And what about Mr. Tripplethorn? Have you ever asked him when he’s not caught up in one of your stories?”
“Not me, ma’am, but Dr. Gareth did once. He was he psychiatrist before Dr. Martinez and Dr. Gareth said he explained what we did every day and that Tripplethorn said he actually liked the idea.”
“But that had to be almost ten years ago”
“Yeah, I know, but every day Mr. Tripplethorn wakes up, he’s exactly like he was the day before. We can predict amost to the letter every word he’s going to say when we give him the same information. I doubt he’s changed his mind about what we’re doing.”
“Honestly, Derrick,” said Ms. Donnally, “I have no idea what I’m going to do with you all…”