Long Nights

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  • Chummer
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  • Posts: 120
  • just another ghost in the machine
« on: <08-04-20/0159:44> »
I blink, wincing at the harshness of the light above me, and the motion causes the room to spin. Concussions aren't all that fun, so I close my eyes tightly once more and take stock. The floaty, detached feeling is familiar, half head trauma and half high grade opiates. That explains the bile in the back of my throat, too.

A tentative shift of one leg brings the crackling rustle of papery hospital sheets, and a cool draft that rather abruptly makes me very aware of being naked under them. Something beeps to my right, followed by a click, and the sudden interior chill of cool fluids pushed directly into a vein brings more gooseflesh up my right arm.

That arm feels odd, now that I think about it, but in the few seconds since the chill started thinking has become much less important. I am abruptly fascinated by the regularity of my breathing, in and out, in and out, but the train of thought is soon lost to sleep.

It is dark when I wake again. My head hurts less, without the glare of the lights, and I am able to peel my eyes open long enough to get a look around. It isn't really much to look at, just an ordinary hospital room, lit through the wire-mesh reinforced window into the hallway.

My wandering eyes settle on the light inside the room for a solid minute before I realize what is odd. On the wall beside the door is the glowing red light of a RFID chipreader, the sort you see controlling maglocks in offices. That seems strange for a hospital.

Another click from the machine beside me, followed by goosebumps again washing up my arm and across my chest, and the world starting to go soft around the edges. Must be a morphine drip. I wonder for a moment why I'm on such a thing as the world recedes again.

Dreams come this time. Dreams of darkness, of pursuit. Rowing through the gears in my Westwind on a two lane highway, the engine howling like the souls of the damned as I bounce it off the redline.

The silent shape of a blacked out SUV in the side view, cutting across my front corner.

The sick lurch as my baby spins, tires wailing in protest and body panels flying like carbon fiber feathers from a molting raven until the headlights illuminate the black trunk of a looming fir mere feet from my radiator.

I wake again with the crash of rending metal echoing in my ears as if the throbbing behind my eyes was the result of an explosion. My head exploding would probably hurt less, says the cynical voice in the back of my head.

I try to move, to shift in the bed, but I have no leverage. Something pulls between my legs where it is taped to my thigh and with what would be embarrassment I realize it must be a catheter. Explains why I can't remember the last time I had to pee.

I manage to open gritty eyes and find it pleasantly dim. The door to my room is still shut, but there is more light now, some soft overhead fixture that projects upwards instead of blinding me.

Rolling my eyes upwards was a mistake. It feels as if the room keeps going, flipping end over end, and I grip weakly at the blanket over me to hang on until the machine beeps and clicks again, and all sense of my body recedes.

I am back in the woods. Trapped in the twisted shrine to the results of speed that was once my favorite car, my Colt wedged just out of reach between what was once the dashboard and the A-pillar. The windshield has gone, leaving the rain to run into my eyes. At least I hope it's the rain, I can't seem to reach to wipe it off.

Men in dark suits are outside now. They're approaching cautiously, looking for a survivor. Lucky me. One spots me, and I am blinded by a tactical light as the barrel of his H&K submachine gun centers on my face.

I close my eyes, expecting a shot, but when it comes it is oddly hollow, and the pain is sharp rather than pervasive. I blink the pinkish water out of my eyes to see a dart standing out of my chest, just before the world goes away in a flood of colors and sensations.

That seems to be happening to me a lot lately.

When they fade this time it's the room again. I'm starting to hate this room. It's too quiet, and I am too weak, but things seem more clear this time. Turning my head, I can see my right arm lying atop the thin blanket, a plastic tube running from a machine next to the bed to a needle buried in my forearm. With effort, I manage to raise a finger, giving the room a proper indication of my opinion of it. That's as far as I get before hitting the end of the velcro cuff strapping my wrist down.

This little bit of defiance gets a giggle from me. Still loopy from the drugs, and sounding more like a garbage disposal full of plastic than my voice, but something other than the machine's slow beeps is music to my ears.

A different beep is my first sign that something's changed. The RFID lock's baleful red glow flashes an inviting green, and a figure in pale blue scrubs enters, pushing a small cart. Another woman, I'd guess, from the way she moves, although the baggy scrubs and lab coat are genderless and carefully devoid of any logos, and her face is hidden behind a surgical mask.

I let my eyes droop closed before she looks my way, watching as she produces a tablet and compares its figures to the machine next to the bed's display. After a moment, she stops and just looks at me expectantly.

"Hrfl." Well, that was supposed to be a greeting from me, but it came out more like a raven's croaking laughter. I can see her eyes crinkle at the corners as she smiles behind the mask.

"Welcome back to the land of the waking, Ms. Doe. Would you like something for that throat?"

Her voice is calm and friendly, exactly what I need right now. I can only nod, and she steps out for a moment, returning with a foam cup full of ice chips for me to suck on until my throat can handle real liquids again. Once the thought of talking hurts less, I lead with the important question.

"Whr'm I?" Vowels are still hard, but I think I'm close to understandable. Tilting the head of the bed up a bit so I wouldn't choke on the ice seems to have woken me up a bit more, but moving is still beyond me.

"A very private clinic, ma'am. It was touch and go for a while, but you have stabilized nicely." Her tone is still friendly, but matter of fact, the trademark of professional nurses anywhere. She tips another bit of ice into my mouth and lets me think about that for a moment before continuing.

"You were in pretty poor shape when they brought you in. Your friends said they had to cut you out of some wreckage."

My eyes narrow involuntarily at the mention of friends. I have few enough of those to count without resorting to my toes. I try to keep it out of my voice when I speak again, though. "Which friends?"

This isn't the first time she's been in this situation. She doesn't even blink. "They did not leave a name, just a rather substantial up front payment. They asked that you be kept in our high security wing while you recovered, and that they be contacted once you had awoken."

I can't stop the panic this time. Fear roils in me, worse than the vertigo. I try to calm myself and just breathe for a minute, listening to the machine next to the bed beep along with my pounding heart until it clicks again and chemical calm sweeps into me. When I open my eyes, I see the nurse holding my left hand, watching me carefully and sympathetically.

"Feeling better?"

I shake my head as much as I dare, still staring at her hand on the hand-shaped lump beneath the blanket. A new fear is dimly raging beneath the chemical cocktail's fluffy blanket of false calm, and I manage to ask the question that is causing my stomach to drop with anticipation.

"Why can't I feel my hand?"

The nurse pats my unmoving hand slightly before smoothing the blanket over it as my brain screams about how it clearly isn't mine. She gives me what I can only assume is her best smile behind the mask before breaking it to me.

"You were very badly damaged from the wreck, Jane. The doctor had to take fairly... extreme measures to keep you alive."

My voice is hard as the fear starts to turn to distant anger. "Show me."

With a nod, she peels back the blanket, and the anger floods out of me leaving a limp sort of relief behind. "It's still there."

"Yes, ma'am. You can't feel it at the moment because the doctors had to disable most of your neural interfaces as a precaution. You had some pretty serious brain swelling from the head trauma."

She nods, businesslike, before turning a critical eye to my feet. "The right leg's a total loss from the knee down, though. The engine block rolled onto it when you wrecked."

The smooth chrome of my left hand gleams reassuringly against the sheets, marred here and there with the scars of hard wear but still where it should be. Where it has been, since I bought it a decade ago with the profits of my first courier run to replace the ragged stump that was a parting gift from someone who I thought I could trust implicitly.

Painfully, I chuckle. "That's okay, I never liked that one anyway."