Derek woke to a rhythmically beeping heart monitor machine. His mind was instantly alert, and images of the out of control crane and the spilling magma flashed through his head. He had saved the entire level, possibly more. Everything was fine.
He pulled his eyes open. He was in an pleasant room, surrounded by white walls and large pieces of medical equipment. The bed he was in was softer then most. The air around him had the distinct smell of being clean.
He forced himself to sit up. A nail drilled into his head the moment he did. The pain was hot and searing. He feel back onto the bed.
The room was filled with a few scattered pieces of furniture, and some crayons and a coloring book sat on one of the chairs. Derek smiled. His sisters had been here. He imagined them sitting beside him, Susan reading from one of her picture books and Maggie half-listening, half-coloring. Then the thought struck him. How was he paying for this room? He didn't have any money. Why had they brought him in at all?
He heard the door opening and saw a nurse stick her head in. “Hey,” he croaked.
“You're awake?” she asked, as if speaking wasn't clear enough evidence.
“Yea, I'm awake,” Derek croaked back.
“I'll get the doctor.” The nurse's head disappeared.
Derek wondered how long it had been sense the crane incident. A few weeks? Maybe more. He could have been in the hospital for months with how bad his injures were. He didn't exactly remember how he was injured, just that it had hurt. A lot.
“Hello Mr. Wheeler,” a man in a doctors coat and carrying a clipboard said as he entered the room. “You must have the constitution of an ox. I thought you were going to be asleep for a whole lot longer then two weeks.”
“Is that how long it's been?” Derek wondered allowed.
“Yes, you suffered four broken ribs, severe concussion, first degree burns on your right arm, and you bit off the tip of your tongue,” the doctor said, glancing at his clipboard. “I surprised you survived. You see I got some witness reports, and the way I see it your arms shouldn't have been able to support your body weight when you were dangling on that crane.”
“I'm a survivor,” Derek said with a grin.
“I certainly think so Mr. Wheeler, your body took a pounding. You're made of tough stuff,” the doctor said, smiling as well. “I'm Dr. Walsh by the way, I've been treating you for the last two weeks. You also had five separate surgeries. The tip of your tongue was actually still in your mouth when you were brought in, we've reattached it.”
Derek's earlier thought came back. “How exactly am I paying for this? I don't have any money.”
Dr. Walsh laughed. “You don't think you can two levels of The Great Foundry, not to mention around a thousand workers, without getting a hefty bonus do you? Everything's been paid for in full. You could stay here for the next twenty years and we wouldn't care. It wouldn't be all that bad of an idea actually.”
Derek couldn't stop himself from smiling. He had never really had money before. “What about my sisters? They've been visiting me right?”
“Some man from the Spherebank took the liberty of using some of your funds to restore their education privileges, but after school hours they're always coming down here to visit.”
“The Spherebank?” Derek said with a shock. “Do I really have that much money?”
“I don't know the exact amount, but you are filthy rich apparently. You're a hero too, by the way,” Dr. Walsh explained as he checked the machinery.
Derek was about to answer when the door opened again. A tall, thin, and unbelievably weedy man walked in. He wore a custom business suit and carried a thick metal briefcase, one that looked like to could hold a great deal of questionable items very securely. He walked with a calm, ruthless gait, one that made not hard to imagine he was coming to take all of your money.
“Hello,” he said slowly, with a sinister smile. “I'm Alex Stonemen, a employe of Spherebank. I've been sent to help you arrange your finances,” he said with a cocky smile while extending his hand in greeting. “We understand third class people like you may have trouble arranging your finances. I've been sent to give advice on such matters.”
“My patient only woke up a moment ago Mr. Stonemen. He's hardly in any state to be doing business,” Dr. Walsh said, a tinge of annoyance in his voice. Derek got the feeling this was not Stonemen's first visit.
“Oh, my client doesn't mind, do you?” Stonemen asked, sitting on the bed next to Derek, smiling pleasantly.
“I guess not,” Derek said, sitting up and bracing himself against a pillow. He was interested in exactly how much money he had. Perhaps it was in the briefcase that Stonemen had?
“Well then, I'll get right into the meat of it then,” Stonemen said with a smirk in Walsh's direction. He typed a code into his briefcase and it popped open, revealing a built in touch screen. “You were given compensation for approximately one-fourth of the damage you averted, amounting to six-hundred and twenty-seven thousand exchange notes. Along with that you received in money from the workers whose lives you saved, amounting to fifty-two thousand exchange notes, and one-hundred thousand exchange notes as a personal thank-you from The Defender himself. In total you have seven-hundred seventy-nine thousand exchange notes in your bank account currently.”
Derek's jaw dropped to almost comical lowness. He had never even heard of someone having that much money. He couldn't believe that he had it. It was several moments before he got up the power to speak. “I... I really have that much?”
“Yes,” Stonemen said with a flashy smile. “It's all currently sitting in your Spherebank account, earning interest.”
“I don't have a Spherebank account.”
“I set one up for you. I know you never completed your education before you lost your privileges, so I'm here to help you learn the ropes of personal finance. There are a lot of men out there who would try to take advantage of your situation.”
“Is it really that complicated?”
“You'll be jumping from no money at all to huge amounts of it. You have to learn about money managing, smart investments, calculating interest. You'll be lost without me,” Stonemen took a very long pause before continuing. “But there is a very simple way to do this. You can tell me what you want and I can give it to you.”
Derek was a bit puzzled. “You mean I give you access to my account and you manage it for me?”
Stonemen shrugged. “That's the general idea. For a small fee I can handle transactions, reorganize your contract with The Great Foundry, keep off money grubbers, and of course, organize a trip outside The Sphere.”
Derek perked up when he heard the last item. “Why would I travel outside The Sphere?”
Stonemen's smiling face got very close to Derek's. “A better question, Mr. Wheeler, is why not? Going outside is one of the greatest privileges of being wealthy. I've been outside twice in my life. I would not trade those experiences for all the money in The Defender's account, which is a considerable sum, mind you. People who live their entire lives inside cannot even begin to understand the beauty of the outside world.”
Derek shook his head. “I've always been told there's nothing outside worth seeing. The outside is full of barbarians and cannibals. It would be dangerous and worthless.”
“Oh, come on!” Stonemen said with an exasperated tone. “Patrols go out every day and come back fine. Men spend months at island outposts and never get attacked. I can arrange for you to tag along with a daily patrol. Just so you can see the outside. It's the only thing that makes money worth it.”
Derek thought about it. He thought about the propaganda poster, the one that had the savage on it. A savage who wore human flesh for skin. “I'll think about it,” he said. “As for your proposal to become my finance manager, I think it would be best if I don't mess around with money, so you're hired.”
“Excellent!” Stonemen said, rubbing his hands together. “Now if we'll just get down to business, the first thing we should discus is your image. The Defender is interested in purchasing it for use in propaganda.”
Derek blew a little air out of his mouth. “He can have it. If he already gave me a hundred-thousand exchange notes he can take whatever he wants. Besides, The Sphere and all in it wouldn't exist with The Defender, so I figure it's every workers duty to do all he can to help him out.”
Stonemen got a strange look in his eyes. It was like he was adding up sums in his head. His smile widened beyond what it was into a devilish grin. “Spoken like a true third class citizen. I will message The Defender and tell him that your image belongs to him at no cost. Of course, between heading the Spherecouncil, commanding the army against waves of barbarians, and owning the Spherebank, he's a busy man. You'll need to have a few pictures taken, but I doubt he'll schedule it for a few months.”
“I can wait. Are there any other issues that we need to talk about?” Derek asked, wondering how much his new found wealth would change things.
“Well, you should know that it is highly irregular for a third class citizen like yourself to have so much purchasing power. In fact, there were several motions in the Spherecouncil to relive you off the funds before you woke up. The Defender vetoed the motion, naturally.”
The day was just full of surprises. Derek had never thought anyone would ever mention him in the Spherecouncil.
The door opened. A nurse stuck her head in. “The patient's family is here to visit.”
“And that's my cue to be going,” Stonemen said, slamming his briefcase shut and pulling himself off the bed. “You just focus on getting better Mr. Wheeler, I'll take care of the rest. And please do consider a trip outside. It's well worth it.”
“Right,” Derek said. He wondered why Stonemen was so eager to get him outside. He had never seen a propaganda poster that said there was anything outside. They only ever said that the outside was full of savages that were at constant war with The Sphere, because they hated civilization. Then he remembered something he shouldn't have forgotten. “It was sabotage,” he said. “The crane went out of control because of sabotage. You'd better get somebody to investigate.”
The tip of Stonemen's nose twitched. “I certainly will.” He pushed through the door as Derek's sisters ran in.
“Brother!” Susan's yell filled the room. “You're not dead!” She had rushed into the room, and shot strait into Derek's arms. He was rocked by the impact.
Dr. Walsh smiled. “I'll leave you guys alone,” he said before walking out. He had to pass Maggie.
“Hey brother,” Maggie said, running to hug Derek as well. “I'm glad you're awake.”
“I've been reading to you every day!” Susan said excitedly. “The Spherebank man even bought me a new book!”
“Oh, he did huh?” Derek said, a bit curious. “He didn't buy you anything else did he?”
“Well, he did come when you were first hurt and say we had to go back to school,” Maggie answered. “But he seems real nice, and says you saved a bunch of people and have a bunch of money now.”
“Huh, yea, I guess I do.” Derek was still getting used to the idea of having money. He suddenly got an idea.
Everyone knew you could purchase better citizenship. It hadn't happened in recorded memory, but everyone still said someone with enough money could. Derek certainly had enough money. First class citizens got free education, only have to pay one percent taxes, and got to vote for seats in the Spherecouncil. Even better, they were able to order third class citizens to do anything. They were the leaders of The Sphere, and the main component in keeping out the savages.
“I'm gonna use it to become a first class citizen too! We all are!” he said, excitement in his voice. He would become a first class class citizen. He would never go hungry. He would live a good life.
Pity he was so wrong.