Note: Not so much an expanded epilog to The Rig as a musing. I'd recently watched this episode, then heard something on talk radio...this was the result. Go figure... Also, apologies for any misspelled/mis-heard(?) character names.

Epilog: The Rig

-- by Mackie/

He lay on the hard metal floor for a long minute, the cold seeping through the layers of sweater, shirt and tee to chill his skin and creep inward toward his bones. A sense of unreality overtook his previously frantic thoughts, and the emotional detachment momentarily drove away the nerves and fear.

He was alive.

The realization was something of a surprise, because in those last few seconds, he'd felt certain he was about to die in this cold metal box suspended above the waters of the northern Pacific. Instead, he'd found the bomb in time, pulled the wires recklessly because there had been no time left to analyze the timer or disarm it properly, even if he'd been qualified to do so.

Shivering in the cold, he rolled onto his stomach and resolutely pushed himself to his knees. Staring at his hands, fingers splayed against the floor of the oil rig, he considered getting up. It seemed to require a huge effort for such little gain.

But there are hostages to set free, his torpid brain finally reminded him.

So he got up. In spite of the coldness of C Deck, the exertion brought a sheen of sweat to his forehead, and he leaned against the wall to combat the sudden weakness that flooded through his limbs. Damn, I will not go into shock, he told himself firmly.

Perversely, he looked at the bomb and its now inactive timer.

One second, the display read.

When he'd pulled the wires, he'd had less than one second to live. The previously comfortable sense of numbness was swept away by a spasm of fear that shuddered through his body with the force of a seizure. With a desperate desire not to be sick, he leaned over, bracing his hands against his knees, taking in great gulps of air to stave off the nausea. When he was certain he was back in control, he straightened and stumbled sluggishly toward the steps leading up to the next deck.

He was starting to hate stairs. Or maybe they were called "ladders", like on a submarine. He was also feeling a strong aversion to all the metal enclosing him. So he doubly hated metal stairs. This irrational musing helped occupy his mind as he dragged his weary body upward.

The rest of the workers had been imprisoned in a huge wooden shipping crate that had probably held one of the rig's drilling components. It was securely padlocked, and he looked around futilely for something to break it open. Unsuccessful, he finally just knocked on the wood.

"Who's that?" demanded a voice he thought he recognized.

"Broward, it's Sandburg." He was surprised to hear that his voice sounded completely calm and normal.

"Who?"

"The guy with the hair."

"Oh. You gonna let us out of here?"

"I need a pry bar or something. Where can I find one?"

"There's a toolbox against the north wall."

North wall. Great. Perfect instructions for someone who was directionally challenged. He looked around until he spotted a likely box and rummaged through it, emerging at last with a heavy crow bar. The simple task kept him suitably distracted for a minute, so he didn't think about the bomb sitting on the deck below, harmless now but less than one second from blowing them all to oblivion...shit, shit, shit.

He popped the padlock easily and swung back the door.

"Where's Crilly?" Broward demanded immediately upon his release.

"He and the others escaped to a ship," he answered. "My partner's got them."

Broward nodded in satisfaction. "Good."

"Hey," another worker said, "I hear a helicopter." The men hurried off to witness the last of the action.

He was left alone. He hadn't mentioned the bomb; no one else needed to know how close they'd come to being reduced to their component atoms. Knock it off.

Trailing outside after the rest of the crew, he was surprised to find a Coast Guard helicopter on the pad. The Coast Guard must have already been in the area, because Blair certainly hadn't managed to raise anyone on the rig's radio. Even if Jim had managed to call them, they wouldn't have been able to arrive so soon.

After a quick conversation with one of the officers to tell him the location of the explosives, Blair found himself hustled on board with the others for the short ride to the freighter, where they would be safe in the event something went wrong with the disarmament of the bomb. As the large Sikorsky lifted off, Blair glanced down at the rig for the last time, and found his thoughts refusing to let go.

Instantaneous death.

It was usually a misnomer. People rarely died instantly. There was generally a period of dying, sometimes a few seconds in the case of massive trauma, sometimes a few hours. The process started when the body began its final shutdown, when the spirit finally admitted enough was enough. Even a lengthy terminal illness had a final, measurable period of dying.

Instantaneous death happened only when the body was shattered in less than a heartbeat -- a high speed impact or rending of heart and brain, traumatized to extinction without so much as a moment of awareness between existence and...nothing..

Explosions could cause instantaneous death.

He started to shake again. Somehow, the knowledge that he would have had no awareness of death was even more terrifying than the actual thought of dying. What lay behind the so-called veil between life and death was the last great mystery any mortal could resolve. He didn't want to be robbed of those last precious moments...the time for a quick prayer, a chance to bid a whispered farewell to a loved one, a last chance to make peace with himself. Stop thinking about it.

He wanted a hot shower, a warm bed, and about twelve hours of dreamless sleep. The first two were possible, although probably still several hours away; as for the latter, he didn't think he stood a chance in hell of not dreaming that final second on the timer, that tiny fragment of time between awareness and the great unknown void beyond.

He had to get his mind off it or he'd drive himself into an hysterical fit. So he thought of Jim's success in overcoming his fear of deep water and swimming to the freighter to capture the renegade rig crew. If Jim could quell his terror of the water, then surely Blair should be able to put these morbid thoughts of death behind him.

But thinking of Jim made Blair realize that getting himself killed was not supposed to be the price of his dissertation. He didn't want it to be the price of this partnership, either. In the six years Jim had been a cop, hadn't he lost two partners and a protégé? Was Blair setting some sort of record for having survived this long, despite being kidnapped, drugged, beaten up and shot at more times than he cared to count? Jim had pulled and fired his weapon in the line of duty more than most cops did on the firing range. What the hell did that say about Blair's chances for survival?

Calm down. This is not getting your mind off anything.

But his mind wasn't cooperating. If it couldn't dwell on personal fears, it insisted on returning to more metaphysical realms.

What lay beyond death? In those five or six minutes after breathing and heartbeat stopped, the brain continued to live. There was a theory that near-death experiences were really nothing more than a race memory created by the brain to deal with the concept of mortality. The human brain, in achieving self-awareness and a perception of mortality, was therefore forced to create God because of an inability to accept death as the finite culmination of life.

Then there was the theological view that said God created man, and therefore the NDE was really a first peek at what lay beyond life. Almost every religion, both ancient and modern, subscribed to a theory of creation. If the theologians were wrong, then the "race memory" had sprung into being long before the dawn of Homo sapiens.

Neither theory could be proven. One relied on faith...the other on disbelief in a higher power.

People had returned from near death to describe the light, the tunnel, the departed loved ones waiting on the other side. If anyone had actually ventured to the other side, they hadn't come back to talk about it, despite the claims of some charlatans.

He didn't know which theory was true, but he knew he didn't want to be cheated out of finding the answer when his time came.

And what about those minutes after the body died and the brain was therefore severed from any contact with what it had previously perceived as reality? Did it dream? He knew time as it existed in the mind was completely different from the artificial segments dividing up the outside world. There had been several times he had experienced an incredibly complex and seemingly long dream that culminated perfectly with the "real world" ringing of a telephone -- therefore, the entire dream must have taken place in the fraction of time between the sound reaching his brain and registering on his consciousness. If that were true, a dying person could dream an entire lifetime in the five or six minutes it took the brain to succumb from lack of oxygen. It was the last, great riddle to be solved, and being blown to bits would have deprived him of the experience.

Not that he was in a rush, but maybe in sixty or seventy years, when some pretty young nurse finally pulled the plug on his life-support, he'd like to think he'd have the time to dream another life, or perhaps simply relive the good moments of this one. He just didn't want to die without learning the secret of death.

A slight sob escaped his lips, and he resolutely closed his eyes against the tears. Stop, damnit. You're alive. You survived. Quit dwelling on the morbid.

Why hadn't he followed the prudent course and left the rig when Jim had warned him about the bomb? The truth was simply that it hadn't occurred to him. Yes, he'd known there were innocent workers still trapped aboard who would surely die if he didn't act quickly; but he had to admit he hadn't given them much thought. He just hadn't considered leaving. There was a fine line between stupidity and heroism; he wasn't going to confess to anyone what he thought about his own actions.

Instead of leaving, Jim's warning of a bomb set to explode in three minutes had sent him charging down three decks to root through a maze of oil drums to find the bomb and deactivate it --

-- with less than one second remaining on the timer.

"Hey, buddy, you staying on board?"

Blair jerked himself back to the present and looked into the concerned face of the helicopter pilot. He had no recollection of landing on the freighter or of the others getting off.

"No, just resting," he lied, unbuckling his seat belt and climbing stiffly down to the deck.

Great. Just keep thinking about it. You'll walk over to Jim and faint dead away. Sandburg's Grand Entrance. Pitiful.

Again, he resolutely shut off his mind and concentrated on reaching the cluster of people gathered on what looked like a catwalk. He was a little surprised to see Simon talking with Jim. How had Simon gotten here so quickly? He must have come with the Coast Guard.

Blair stopped a short distance from the police officers and took abnormally intense interest in their conversation. It kept his mind from returning to -- stop it, stop it, stop it!!!

Jim spoke with Broward next, making a difficult but sincere apology. That was nice.

He waited quietly on the sidelines, his hands fisted inside his pockets until the knuckles ached, at which time he forced himself to loosen his grip.

Finally, Simon and Broward walked away, and Jim turned toward him.

Desperate to avoid any concerned questions about how he was doing, Blair grinned and blurted, "So, you must be feeling pretty good. I mean, you did it."

"Did what?" Jim asked casually.

"You conquered your fear of the water."

"Oh, yeah, I guess I did," Jim agreed, falling easily into the simple chatter. "Yeah, I guess now I'm ready for the really big challenge."

Blair was confused. "What's that?"

"Housebreaking you." Jim sounded completely serious. "We got a couple of rules around the house we're gonna attend to."

"Ah, like what?" Blair ventured cautiously, feeling too mentally disconnected from the present to be competent in a verbal sparring match.

"First of all, there's not going to be any shoes allowed in the apartment. They're gonna be kept at the door, like they do in Japan."

"Come on!"

"Next, there's not going to be any of those smelly foods that you have from foreign countries that aren't even on the map."

Blair started to feel a little irritated as the new house rules penetrated his cerebral fog. Damnit, he'd nearly died, and Jim was talking housekeeping? "Don't you think you're taking this a little too far?"

"No, no -- and I'm also thinking about getting some of those plastic covers for the furniture -- "

"What?"

"Well, maybe not -- "

Blair laughed suddenly as he realized Jim had been leading him on. The plastic furniture covers had been the giveaway. Somehow, Jim had known about how close it had been; his talk of house rules was a way to get Blair's thoughts away from dwelling on the nearness of death.

Where there was humor, there was life.

For the first time in what felt like hours, Blair's smile was genuine.

THE END

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