WHEREIN Our Hero Awakens in a Strange Place, to Familiar Circumstances
When Grif regained consciousness he realized two things:
First, the smell told him he was in some kind of medical bay. Second, the smell also told him it wasn’t the medical bay on board the Fool’s Errand.
He tried to sit up, but couldn’t. He was strapped down to something: first he thought he’d been tied to a bed, but a moment later he realized he was actually attached to a device that ran down the side of his bed, covering his left arm and part of his chest. He panicked as he realized he couldn’t feel his left arm.
“Don’t move,” someone said.
Grif lifted his head and tried to focus on the direction of the voice. He saw a white blurry figure to his right, in a moment the blurry figure sharpened into a man in a medical uniform looking at a monitor at the foot of his bed. He looked up at Grif and smiled politely.
“Moving your head is still moving,” the man said, a hint of amusement in his voice.
Grif sank back into his pillow and stared up at the ceiling. The white light panels set in gleaming white tiles filled the room with bright, white light.
“Disorientation is normal,” the man said. “Especially considering how long you’ve been under. We’ve had to immobilize parts of your body to speed the healing process along. You probably feel a little numb over there right now–that’s normal. We’re re-growing your shoulder, and we haven’t unblocked the nerves yet.”
“Re-growing?” Grif’s voice was cracked and hoarse. He wanted a drink.
The man nodded. “You were pretty banged up when they brought you in here… plasma eating through what was left of your arm and shoulder. Seeping into your side, too; you were lucky you got here when you did. We also had to extract a fair amount of shrapnel out of your body. Someone wasn’t fond of you.”
Grif thought back. “Yeah.”
“It was easier to re-grow the shoulder than try and put it back together.” The man looked at Grif, then the monitor, then at his watch. “I guess I’ll let your friend know you’re awake. She’s been here a while.”
The doctor turned to leave. As he reached the door, he stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Don’t try to get up,” he warned. “Regrowing an arm is complicated, and you’ve only been credited for one.”
With that, the man left.
Only credited for one? Grif wondered who had credited him for it in the first place. Re-growing bones, muscle and skin was expensive.
The door opened again. Grif lifted his head and saw Amys walk into the room, smiling slightly.
“You don’t look dead,” she said. “I guess that’s a good thing.”
Grif grinned. “Matter of opinion I guess. I expect Mavis would disagree. How long have I been here?” His voice was still hoarse but getting stronger.
“About a week,” Amys said. Seeing the look of alarm on his face, she added, “it was because they were re-growing your shoulder. It’s almost finished now.”
“They?” Grif asked. “Who is ‘they,’ exactly? I assume it’s not ‘us,’ because this doesn’t look like a hospital we could afford…”
Amys didn’t answer.
“You know, Amys, whenever you don’t answer I tend to assume you’re trying to find a way to put bad news in the best possible light.”
“Oh, good.” Grif leaned his head back on his pillow and steeled himself. “So where are we, exactly?”
“We’re in one of the restricted access recovery wards in the first city… it’s a MediCorp facility. Fairly close to the Tyrelos estate…”
Grif whistled. “Fancy.”
“So who exactly made the decision to take me here?” Grif asked. “Instead of taking me to MedCommons, or getting an indie to show up at the Fool’s Errand… either one could fix me with a little Plastall. I mean really, re-growing bone is expensive…”
“I’m not paying for this,” Amys said.
“I didn’t think you were. I just want to know who is…”
Amys looked nervous.
“Amys? It’s not Velis is it? Please tell me it’s not–“
“It’s not Velis,” Amys said quickly.
“It’s Baron Tyrelos.”
Grif blinked. “Um… what?”
“Yeah,” Amys said. “We dropped you and Cyrus off at MedCommons… Cyrus had his arm cut up in the fight, but it wasn’t that bad. You were in pretty bad shape, though. I was waiting in the lobby…”
“So I was, originally, at MedCommons?” Grif asked.
Amys nodded. “For about a day. They’d stabilized you and were getting ready to take you in to surgery. I looked out the window and I saw some MediCorp techs loading you into a transport. Naturally I was curious: I ran out and asked them what the hell they thought they were doing, and they said someone had paid to have you transferred to their facility in the first city. They wouldn’t say who, but they agreed to let me come along.”
“They agreed, just like that?”
Amys shrugged casually. “I explained to them that I was your first officer. When that didn’t work, I offered to help them explore exactly how comprehensive their medical coverage was.”
Grif smirked. Amys was a very persuasive woman.
“Later on,” she continued, “I overheard one of the doctors in a conference call. He kept saying ‘milady,’ and ‘Baron’ once or twice. He was talking about your condition… not hard to figure out…”
Grif tried to sit up, then remembered what the doctor said about his shoulder and forced himself to relax. “I’ve got to get out of here,” he said. “I don’t know why Baron Tyrelos would want to pay my medical bill, but…”
Grif saw Amys tense as the door opened. Raising his head, he saw four armed Station Authority guards enter the room. A guard stood at either side of the door, the remaining two leveled their weapons at Amys.
“Stand away from the prisoner,” one ordered.
Amys glanced at Grif in alarm–alarm that Grif wholeheartedly shared–and backed away from Grif’s bed.
“What’s going on?” Grif asked. The guards didn’t answer.
The door opened again, and another guard–a sergeant–entered the room. Grif’s doctor entered with him, looking very unhappy.
“It’s still too early,” the doctor protested.
The sergeant shrugged. “We’re on a schedule. If the arm will finish healing on its own then we’re taking him.”
The doctor sighed, exasperated. He moved over to the machine attached to Grif’s bed and did something Grif couldn’t see. Grif immediately felt a mild sensation of warmth spread up and down his left arm.
“This is going to hurt a bit,” the doctor said.
Grif frowned. “A bit?”
The doctor hesitated. “A lot, probably.” He pressed a button, and a series of lights running down the length of the machine turned green.
Intense pain shot down Grif’s left arm, from his shoulder to the tips of his fingers and into his side. His eyes bulged from the overwhelming rush of sensation returning to his arm; it hurt so much that he couldn’t even yell. All he could do was gasp in shallow breaths as the pain washed over him.
Grif was dimly aware of the sound of a pulse rifle powering up. Someone shouted a command to stay back. Amys shouted something in return, but Grif couldn’t tell what it was. His head was pounding, a rushing sound filled his ears and drowned out everything else. He thought he heard the doctor saying that the arm would be weak and tender for a few days, and there was something about prescribed drugs, and possible side effects. None of it made any sense.
He felt his left side vibrate four times, as if he were a tuning fork struck four times in succession, then felt his left arm drop to the bed. He was free of the machine, and the fresh air hitting his skin felt like open flame. Rough hands forced him to sit, provoking another spasm of pain from his shoulder. This time both Amys and the doctor shouted angrily at the guards, and the rough hands were replaced by a gentler grip.
He was very dizzy. His vision blurred in and out of focus, and the room was spinning… no, he realized, he was being turned around. They removed his hospital gown. Grif heard a wall panel slide open. A moment later he was shoved unceremoniously into a small, squarish room not much bigger than he was. His shoulder hit the corner of the entrance on his way in, causing him to cry out and double over.
“Be CAREFUL!” the doctor shouted. “She’s not going to be pleased if you undo all the work she paid–“
The panel closed, and Grif could hear only muffled sounds.
He looked up. The panel was transparent. In the other room the doctor was arguing with the sergeant. Two of the guards stood next to the panel, watching him with bored disinterest. Two other guards leveled their weapons at Amys, who glared at them, quivering with rage.
The doctor threw up his hands in exasperation, shouted something Grif couldn’t hear, and stormed out of the room. The sergeant turned his attention to Grif. He said something indistinct, and one of the guards near him reached over to fiddle with something to the right of the panel. Grif shook his head and turned, trying to figure out exactly where he was.
A second later hot water sprayed down from the ceiling, scalding him. He was in a medical shower for the infirm, apparently, and the temperature was not to his taste. The water adjusted itself quickly, and Grif stood patiently, waiting for the shower to finish. He touched his left shoulder gingerly; it throbbed fiercely, but seemed intact. It hurt when he moved it, but not in a way that said “this limb is no longer functional.”
The water stopped and a vent opened, blowing hot air into the shower. Grif stood there as patiently as he could manage, waiting to dry. A sonic shower would’ve been more practical, Grif thought. Apparently rich invalids preferred impractical and expensive water for bathing.
A few minutes later, Grif was dry… damp, at least. The panel opened, and he shivered as the chilly air of the recovery room forced its way into the small, humid chamber.
The sergeant crossed the room and threw a bundle of clothing at him. “Put these on.”
Still shivering, Grif stared at the sergeant, then looked over at the bed. “Can I put these on over there, or do you want me to change in here?”
The sergeant looked surprised, not expecting Grif to speak, then shrugged. “Use the bed if you want,” he said, and walked back to the door.
Grif staggered into the room and rotated his left arm, wincing. It worked, but it didn’t have much strength–the slightest amount of pressure caused intense pain.
“You OK, Grif?” Amys’ voice was taut with worry and anger.
Grif tried to grin and nearly succeeded. “Fine… just a little, uh, surprised by our visitors…”
He looked at the five guards. Two were watching Amys warily, though they no longer pointed guns at her. The other two were standing by the shower, obviously bored.
“Get dressed,” the sergeant snapped. “We’re pressed for time.”
“We are?” Grif fumbled with the bundle of clothes as he set it on the bed. “Where are we going?”
The sergeant didn’t reply.
“Well,” Grif said, unrolling a shirt and setting it aside, “This isn’t a prison uniform–I’ve seen those–so I guess I’m not going to jail. On the other hand it’s pretty cheap, so I guess I’m not going to meet the Baron, either. Which is a shame… I hear she paid my bill. I was hoping to thank her personally…”
“Just get dressed,” the sergeant repeated.
Grif dressed slowly, awkwardly working his way into the briefs and trousers, trying to minimize the use of his left arm. He was worried. The armed guards were treating him like a prisoner, but this wasn’t prison garb. They weren’t dressed like prison guards, either… they didn’t have shock sticks, for one thing, and they weren’t wearing the traditional body armor…
Then Grif noticed they were wearing earpieces. Very specialized earpieces. He swore.
The guards looked at him sharply. The sergeant frowned suspiciously. Grif winced, and grinned awkwardly. “Damn arm,” he said. “Still hurts. I’m not used to how weak it is.”
The sergeant relaxed. The other guards resumed their half-attentive vigil.
Grif continued to dress, watching the guards furtively. He thought he knew where they were planning to take him, and he didn’t want to go there.
He’d been given no shoes. That annoyed him. He looked at the shirt–it used buttons. This gave him an idea.
He managed to put the shirt on, making a great show of barely being able to move his left arm, and then fumbled with the buttons as he tried to fasten them with one hand. Finally he sighed in frustration, and looked at the sergeant, resignation on his face.
The sergeant snorted in disgust and gestured for a guard to help him. Grif angled himself so that the guard helping him was directly between him and the guard by the shower.
“Stand still,” the guard said, annoyed.
“Sorry,” Grif said. He grinned at Amys. “I feel like I’m four. Hey, remember when I was four?”
Amys raised an eyebrow.
“Well of course you wouldn’t,” Grif said. He looked at the guard and grinned wider. “Of course she wouldn’t. I mean, she was four… er… three.”
“I was two,” Amys said.
Grif nodded. “That’s the one…”
Amys kicked. A guard cried out in pain, gripping his wrist, as his rifle struck the ground and slid across the floor. The hum of a vibroknife filled the room as Amys slashed, and a second guard staggered back, clutching his neck. The vibroknife deactivated and disappeared into Amys’ sleeve as she caught his rifle before it fell to the floor.
The guard buttoning Grif’s shirt frowned and looked over his shoulder. When he saw Amys he tensed, whirled around and reached for his pistol–only to close his hand around Grif’s wrist.
“Oops.” Grif grinned up at the guard sheepishly. “This is awkward.” He kicked the back of the guard’s leg with his knee. The guard’s leg buckled, and he stumbled forward, letting go of Grif’s wrist as his arms flailed in an attempt to keep his balance. Grif slid the pistol out of the guard’s holster, deactivated the safety, and fired a single shot into the guard’s back.
The guard by the shower stall yelled in alarm and raised his rifle. Grif fired at the guard, missed, and dove behind the machine that had regrown his arm. Energy exploded against the computer paneling.
I hope I’m not here when the doctor sees that, Grif thought.
Grif heard two more shots, then silence.
“You can get up now,” Amys said.
Grif got to his feet. All five guards were down.
“The sergeant tried to go for his comm link,” Amys said, “but I dropped him before he could turn it on.”
“Good,” Grif said. “That might buy us a little time. But not a lot. Someone had to have heard that.”
“Maybe not…” Amys started rummaging through the sergeant’s pockets for ammunition. “This is a restricted ward. There’s another door down the hall that takes you out of the ward, and it’s sealed. I didn’t see any patients in any of the other rooms. I don’t think we’ve attracted any attention yet.”
“Well, that’s something…” Griff leaned over the guard he shot and pulled a few energy cells out of his holster. “Let’s get out of here.”
Amys nodded. “Mind telling me why we killed them?”
“They were going to hand me over to a Sword,” Grif said.
Grif leaned over the guard he shot and started pulling off a boot with his good arm. “I’m serious. Look at their earpieces. They don’t actually fit into the ears.”
Amys peered down at the sergeant. Her eyes widened. “Attached to the temple. Damn. Psi-blockers.”
“Not standard equipment for prisoner transport.” Grif started tugging on the other boot. “I’d probably want one if I was paranoid about the guy I was delivering a prisoner to. Not that it would matter against a Sword. Especially this one. Assuming N’grash’s information is right.”
The second boot pulled free, and Grif hastily slipped into the pair.
“N’grash?” Amys finished scavenging the bodies and turn to face Grif, frowning deeply.
“That’s what she wanted to talk to me about. She heard a Sword was after me to try and figure out how I ‘broke in’ to Ur Voys. She also said that one was on his way here. If I’ve been out for a week, the timing could line up.”
“Charming,” Amys said. “And you didn’t mention this because…?”
“Because we were fighting a bunch of goddamned cyborg slavers is why!”
“OK,” Amys said, “sorry. It’s just, you know, we never talk any more…”
Amys opened the exit hatch and looked out. “Clear,” she said. “This area is sort of removed from the rest of the complex. Lots of empty recovery rooms.”
“Good.” Grif walked over to the door slowly, getting used to the fit of the boots. They were a little small.
“How’s your arm?” Amys asked.
Grif grimaced. “Hurts like hell. I’ll manage.”
He straightened, and shifted uncomfortably. The clothes were too thin, practically pajamas, and the boots were too thick and a size too small. “I feel like an idiot.”
Amys looked him over. “You look like an idiot.”
“Excellent.” Grif checked the charge on his pulse pistol. “Dignity above all. Let’s get out of here.”