As too often was the case at that point in my eternal life, I found myself with too much time on my hands. I’m sure there’s a rule in there somewhere about idle hands, but my mind wasn’t in its usual state of quick wit.
So, I relied on my instincts, my routines and habits, to get me through the day. That is to say, I was at the gym.
I was just winding down on the final week of my current workout program; a grueling six weeks of body shredding goodness, which had been quite effective, but incredibly draining, mentally and physically.
That’s when I first saw Malcolm come into the gym. Of course, I didn’t know his name then, but I would never forget him.
He pushed forward in his motorized chair towards the squat bar. He was dark skinned, even for a Brutor, his tribal markings faded, but there was still a glint of life in his eyes which intrigued me. I was walking a lap in between 100m wind sprints, and saw him struggling with something in the front carry basket on his chair.
“Need a hand old timer?” I asked, a friendly smirk on my face.
He smiled warmly, asking if I could get his exercise gloves from a bag buried at the bottom of his basket. He told me how he struggled getting his gloves on as he no longer had any feeling in his hands, then laughed.
I found his gloves and helped him get them on, which was quite the struggle as his hands were gnarled and lifeless, his fingers more like claws than anything, stiff and unyielding. I was afraid of snapping them as I tried to delicately get them through the appropriate finger holes.
All the while, Malcolm and I chatted, as I was genuinely curious about his story.
“I served in the TLF a few years back, gunner 1st class.” He beamed with pride at both his membership in the Tribal Liberation Force, the capsuleer assault force of the Minmatar Militia, and his privileged rank; his lack of pod pilot control receptacles made it obvious he wasn’t of my kind.
“We were engaged in a firefight out in Auga, Amarr forces everywhere. We had been baited good. I had signed up for service like so many from my district, the lure of unlimited wealth outweighing the certainty of death. Times were tough, still are tough; how could I say no to that?”
I nodded in agreement as I continued to fidget with his gloves.
“Our pilot issued the ‘abandon ship’ protocol, those damned klaxons blaring mercilessly in our ears. We did as we had been trained to do, and made our way to the escape pods. I was halfway down my egress corridor when the bulkhead blew, taking my entire gunnery team with it. In the blink of an eye I lost a dozen good men and women, but there wasn’t even time for it to register before the debris hit me, severing me just below the waist.”
He pointed down at his chair, at the stumps where his legs used to be.
“The entire corridor decompressed around me, and I thought for certain I was going to be crushed into oblivion, then and there. Cliched as it sounds, my life flashed before my eyes: falling in love, proposing, marriage, children, grandchildren, all of it. More than anything I was saddened I would never get to see any of my family again. I couldn’t even think about how much money they would be paid at my death; I wanted to live.”
He looked at me again, a smoldering fire in his eyes, and once again I nodded, urging him to continue as I struggled to get his thumbs into the gloves.
“I couldn’t tell you what happened after that. Couldn’t even tell you how much time passed before the salvage team found me. I reckon they were looking for intact ship parts; I just happened to be a coincidence, but who am I to complain? I’m still around.”
I liked this man. He had heart.
“Took me a long while to recover. I was mighty depressed. Not so much that I had lost my legs, but because I hadn’t died, my family got squat. No payout, and of course, had I read the fine print I would’ve noticed that there was no money for injury only. They would’ve been better off had I died, in that sense. Ah well, such is life I suppose.”
I wish I could say his story was unique but I knew better. Even amongst my own colleagues, many didn’t even recognize their ship crews, much less care about their well being. They were an unseen and disposable commodity, like any other ship component, except cheaper to replace.
“Look, I’ve just finished warming up.” I lied. “Mind if I work in with you?” I asked.
Malcolm smiled. “It would be my honour, Colonel Wieler.”
I smiled back to him. He was a humble, grateful man, with a good heart. I wanted to surround myself with more people like that, people that don’t forget what’s important in life: family, friends, and looking at the very best in everything.
We had a decent time of it, and when finished, I spoke out to him, “Same time tomorrow?”
“Yes sir.” was the reply.
Indeed. I was going to spend my time getting to know this man, learning from him, sharing war stories with him. I was going to find out his full name, his rank before he was discharged, and make sure his family was taken care of for the rest of their lives, as his own captain should’ve done.
Good people are hard to find. Treasure those you do.