Claimer: (Not a disclaimer. I’m not trying to protect myself. I just want you to know something.)
A ‘Trigger Warning’ is a psychological term warning to a reader, listener, or viewer of content that something in the following information may set off (trigger) a severe emotional reaction in some people who have experienced trauma in the past or who suffer from a variety of mental illnesses.
The story, “Trigger Warnings” is about several people who have suffered mental, physical or sexual abuse, or are suffering from other mental illnesses.
If you are triggered by non-suicidal self-injury, emotional abuse, sexual assault, or child sexual abuse you may want to proceed with caution, if at all. While sexual abuse and child abuse are not presented graphically, they are addressed.
If you find you are triggered by these stories—have a desire to self-harm, become depressed, have suicidal thoughts, etc—please contact your physician, a school counselor, a trustworthy family member, or the suicide hotline. I am presenting these stories to raise awareness of mental illness and create support for those in need, not to cause harm. You have value, you are loved and there is help if you can bring yourself to look for it.
Silver waited in the link aft from his cube and watched his daughter trudge off to school. Once she had passed through the distant link he hurried to his former residence.
"Amanda?" he called from the sitting room. There was no reply.
At the doorway to the master bedroom he barked, startling his estranged wife, "Amanda. Wake up. Don't you go into your office anymore?"
Slowly, she rose on one elbow, blinking her eyes. "Don't you ever ask a question in a reasonable tone of voice?"
He walked a few steps into the room and said, "I watched Celia leave. She looked like she’d flown through an electrical array without a magnetic dampener. You need to spend some time with her, teach her about grooming, try to help her fit in. It’s hard enough being a teenager without the other kids thinking you lie in a recycling bin."
"If a single word of what I told her stayed in her vacant head it might be worth my time. But it doesn't, so it's not. She's an embarrassment. If I take her anywhere, or if a friend comes to our cube and sees her, it reflects poorly on me."
Amanda sat up, throwing off the covering and shook out her mane of deep red hair. Thick strands cascaded past her shoulders and formed small, half-circle curls just short of her bare breasts.
Still groggy from sleep, her hair in disarray, she was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever known. Fire burned in him as it had years ago. He fought the desire to cross to the bed, throw off the sheets and take her in his arms. He'd learned the last time lust superimposed itself over his memories of love; it would do little to restore their corroded relationship. He pushed back his natural urges.
"Surely you didn't come here to talk about your daughter's hair and stare at my breasts."
Her sarcasm brought him out of his trance.
She’s only my daughter now? He thought.
He cleared his throat and said, "Anyway. I'll be away for the better part of the next seven days to a week. We've got some long routines to run on the..."
"You don't need to bore me with the details. I know it must be important to someone. Just go take care of your routines and give me a heads up when you think you might be coming by for more than a quarter hour. You made your decision to stay away and you know how I hate surprises."
Another kind of fire burned in him from her casual dismissal and he fought back the urge to wring her neck.
"Tell Celia I love her," he said turning back to the door. A sparkle on his wife's dressing stand caught his eye. He picked up a jeweled stick pin and twisted it between his fingers. Light glittered off a tiny replica of a rare alien flower with diamonds set among the delicate blown glass petals.
"You make good wages for a middle manager at that shipping company," Silver commented dryly.
"I do. Many of my customers recognize my value. Their compliments get paid forward and my bosses are pleased. Unlike someone I know who fails to advance in his admirable career. If it wasn't for my connections we would be living in a cube a fourth the size of this one."
Silver laughed, "Your connections? I could have you living in a closet by mid-second, today.”
His ridicule touched a nerve and she stood, the thermal sheet dropping to the floor. Clearly her most valuable business asset stood before him--every cubic centimeter of her body was finely tuned and toned. Ugly rage etched her face and contrasted the elegance of her frame.
Unwanted feral heat returned to his loins. He laughed, though. "There is much more supporting this expansive cube than your hard work and your family name. Maybe ten years at the university earning my degree has something to do with it. But then, that's nothing you can take credit for, so it's naturally of no account."
He growled and threw the pin back to the table. He raised his fist into the air, then shook his head and bit on his knuckle. He turned away again. "I don't know why I always let you draw me in to this same old argument."
"I think you draw yourself pretty well." Her anger quickly changed to a cutting smirk.
He jerked his hand away from his mouth, teeth marks made a dashed line in his skin. "We made our agreement that I would stay away and you would take care of Celia. If the quartering division learns I've moved out..."
He raised an eyebrow, waiting for a response. When none came he added, "You don't want the inconvenience a cube reassignment would cause you, and I don't want to disrupt my daughter's life any more than I have to. Just take care of her and I'll stay out of your way."
"If you have a problem, you'll need to handle it yourself. I have a meeting to prepare for," Amanda said gliding toward the bathroom.
"Is that all our child is to you, a problem that needs to be handled?"
But the door slid closed and Silver only heard distant, tuneless humming from inside.
The creature stretched a pseudopod from its central mass.
If its spore had originally lodged anywhere else on the battle base, its growth would have been limited by the amount of water vapor in its location and may never have gotten large enough to be observed by any of the 1.2 million people aboard. Finding its home on the water treatment floor, its growth was essentially limitless. It was comfortable at its current size of a meter in height and slightly less than that in diameter, but it was hungry.
The tentacle stretched along the expanded plastisteel catwalk. Taking on water from below its perch, the creature could extend the tentacle for hundreds of meters without decreasing the size of its central mass. Fine hair-like projections on the surface of the pseudopod detected brainwaves of a potential meal and oozed toward it.
Hundreds of years old, yet only recently self-aware, it felt a loss. The creature couldn't register this emotion. It had dined on sewer rats for the last century and knew only the reasoning of such animals; hunger, satiation, fear, and security. Though the rat was big and had numerous tumors throughout its system to give it flavor, the creature wanted something larger and more complex.
The drug addict, ‘Who’.
In a passage five meters from the closest link, a man leaned against the wall for support. His tattered jumpsuit, which may have once been tan, showed bare calves above worn base-boots. His cheeks hung hollow below equally baggy eyelids and his thinning hair hung like grey spider-webs over yellow, thickened skin.
He had disabled three of the illumination panels above the passage to prevent the simulated sunlight from hurting his sensitive eyes. He hovered on the edge of the resulting semi-circular shadow on the floor.
A young man in a clean technical uniform entered the passage from the opposite, intersecting link 100 meters away and walked with purpose as he fiddled with the portable communicator on the back of his sleeve, just above his left wrist.
When the technician was close enough to hear, the man leaning against the wall took a single step forward, flashed a credit strip in the palm of his cupped hand, and asked in a hoarse whisper, "Hey, Chief. Can you sync me some cred?"
The technician, many years away from the rank of Chief, barely acknowledged the other and shook his head negatively, walking past into the link. When the young man was gone, the beggar looked at his generic credit strip, a glowing green bar indicating it held less than two Galactic credits.
A man blending into the darkest part of semicircular shadow laughed. "You know panhandling is illegal on the Battle Bases, don't you?"
"Yeah. And so is doing dust. But in case you haven't noticed, no one’s arresting me. No one wants to waste their time and creds babysitting a bunch of drug addicts. It's easier to just ignore us and hope we disappear."
The dark man walked a few meters toward the distant link and said, "You'll never learn. Will you?"
The beggar tried to turn his head and most of his body turned with it. The muscles of his neck were taught and rigid, an advanced side effect of the hallucinogenic neuro-stimulant known to space travelers as ”Dust”. He swiped greasy tangles of hair from his face and asked the dark man, "What? What am I supposed to learn?"
"Huh, huh, huh," the man laughed, his face in shadow. "One thing, at least. You've never learned to be a very good beggar. You haven't gotten anything in days. How do you expect to get set up if you don't get any cred?"
"Isn't that why you're here? To set me up? You're never here when I'm constant."
"That's right.” The dark man shifted in the shadow. “I'm here for you when you really need me."
The addict leaned forward. "Where is it then? Where's my dust? Come over here, where I can see you. You're always hiding in corners or standing with your back to me."
"It's the dust, friend. It ruins your eyes."
He tried to close his eyes but the muscles of his forehead were tight as well, another effect of the drug, giving him a continuously surprised appearance. Rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, he blinked at the dark man, but he was gone.
Hunched over, he leaned back against the wall. His body shook and he felt weaker by the minute. From inside the link he heard a chime telling those waiting at the door to the horizontal transport that a car was about to arrive. He heard a woman's voice speaking to someone cheerfully and spun around to approach her. His momentum was too much and he lost his balance, falling to the floor.
"Oh," the woman gasped and ran to kneel at his side. "Kurt. Come help me. This poor man is sick."
The dust addict raised his shaking hand with the credit strip in it and begged, "Please..."
"Get up, Bekindra. He's just a drug addict. You can't help him."
"Yes I can," Bekindra said and took a credit strip from a self-seal pocket. She punched in numbers with her thumb along the flexible magnetic strip and took his from his shaking hand. She placed the two strips end to end. The green border of his strip lengthened as hers decreased.
"There you go," she said, handing the strip to the man on the floor and stood to look at her companion defiantly.
"He's only going to spend it on more drugs. Look at him, he's almost dead from the abuse."
"That may be,” she said, “But at least he'll be happy and comfortable for a little while. Now, come on and buy me dinner. I'm a bit short on creds."
The couple walked away and the dark man returned to lean over the drug addict.
"Look at that. You got enough creds to last you a week or more. Come on. I know a guy down on the water treatment level who can set you up." The dark man walked toward the link. "Get off the floor, dust sucker. I don't know why I try to help you. You're just an addict, just a useless addict."
"You don't need to call me addict. I got a name," he grumbled and used the wall for support as he climbed back to his feet. He stumbled the few meters into the link and passed his hand in front of the sensor calling the vertical lift.
He had a name. He just couldn't remember it.