Chapter 19: Falling Out
“Are you ready?” The doctor said, smiling with his white teeth showing.
He nodded. He could feel the fear creep into his limbs, testing the strength of the binds they had on him.
He was positioned vertically, tilting a fraction backwards on a padded gurney that had an impressive array of clamps and straps keeping him down. His pulse jumped as a nurse carted in a tray of instruments and waited patiently behind them.
“This is going to cause you a great deal of pain, Corporal.”
Corporal, Corporal, Corporal, was he a Corporal?
He was standing on the slope of a shuttle-stop, staring out over a city framed by wisps of fog. He was wearing a suit. No, a uniform.
Before he could see the uniform he was whisked away again to a room full of blasting pain, but before the crimson tinge of fury entered his vision he was dumped in an ally.
“…Arrowhead…” Two arrows shooting towards the sky, both passing through a ring of stars before exploding in fiery blue sparks and the calming touch of a woman’s hand.
She was blue, she sparkled like the current, her eyes blazed with energy, and underneath the shimmering clouds of her dress were the wrapped cords of brown vines, growing up and up to wrap around her whole body and sprout green chutes from her scalp.
“Ten men whose minds must mend
Thirteen cities that bleed my vein
Ten marks that I will send
Thirteen lives that cry in vain.”
The nonsensical rhyme played across the background of this twisted dreamscape, always different from verse to verse – men would turn to women, cities to creatures, ten to twelve, thirteen to three… as He couldn’t make up his mind.
Which one is it? What rhyme? Is it even important? Oh God, it is important, I need to know…
The vision of two arrows launching in the air towards him as he was bound to the gurney as a perfect target, two silver talons bursting from the arrowheads and clamping his chest in a vice of fire…
Lenora managed to get a few more hours of sleep after Renee left. She awoke with a stretch and a yawn that cleared away the cobwebs of the night. The small window in her bedroom let in a few rays of Artificial UV from the enormous cells clamped high above Cellar City on the bottom of the fog.
Taking a second to pile all her colorful throw pillows back on top of her mattress, she gently pulled the memories from last night to the surface.
A trill of excitement ran through her when she recounted meeting the mysterious X in her kitchen.
She rubbed her wrists absently when she was done, then padded over to her door. Taking a deep breath, she opened it and peered cautiously into her living room area.
X was on his stomach with his head turned towards the window. One arm hung limply off the side of the futon, as did the corresponding foot as it poked out from under the blanket. Speaking of which, it was twisted about his middle like a blue toga, covering most of his legs and the one arm that was curled up around his head.
He hardly looked comfortable, but the image made her smile.
Leaving the door to her bedroom open, Lenora crossed into the kitchenette and started taking out some bowls and the two bags of cereal she had – Fruity Squares and Wheat Os. She had just finished setting the table when she heard the buzzer of her door again.
Rolling her eyes she manually answered it from her ad-screen. She kept glancing back to see if X had been disturbed, but he was sleeping like the dead. The thought startled her, and she peered narrow-eyed at him until she was certain she saw his chest moving.
Of course by the time she saw the shallow breaths moving his chest up and down, there was a quiet knock at her door.
Lenora heaved a relieved sigh. That certainly didn’t sound like Renee.
She pulled her door open and gave David a welcoming smile, and then opened the door so he could slide inside.
“I can’t stay long; I have to start my shift soon.” He grinned back at her. “I tried to give you as much sleep as you could get. Had a busy night.”
David was dressed in his usual delivery gear – road-goggles pushed up into his hairline, black uniform vest with yellow reflector tape in an X across his back and chest, knee-high Clamp Boots to go with the FloatBoard on his back, and his own personal touch of old-school finger-less gloves so he could still operate the Deliver-Tech console on his forearm. His green hair was gelled to fall wildly about his head and stay there through hours of delivering.
Lenora could see the frown in his eyes. She bit her lip. When she had recounted the previous evening, she hadn’t overlooked the blood and bodies. She knew now that he had recounted those same images… but they hadn’t ended on finding Lenora’s hero. They must have ended in hauling an injured man to his friend’s apartment and being forced to leave them alone.
Her heart went out to him. Lenora gave him a quick hug. David returned it as much as he was allowed to before she pulled back from him.
“How did you sleep?” Lenora asked, beckoning him into the kitchenette area, and indicating a stool. David unclipped the FloatBoard and leaned it up against the wall beside the door.
It was about as long as his leg, and had a funny hourglass shape. In the powered-off state, Lenora could see the track where the ChiMera energy would course through to power it, and she could see the flat sheen of the Repulser Plate along the bottom middle. It looked so simple – but she knew that the technology of Repulser Plates was way over her head. Even Renee had trouble explaining it, and she liked working on vehicles of all types.
Well, whatever types she could work on, that is.
“Meh. I slept all right.” David shrugged indifferently, and cast his eyes towards the futon, where X stirred in his sleep.
Lenora could see the uncertainty in his eyes.
She watched X fuss for a second before looking back over at David. “He’s been nothing but a good guest, I promise.”
David nodded. “Yeah I know, otherwise you would have called.” He gave her a quick smile. Then he gestured to the bags of cereal and the place settings. “I thought you were too old to play house.” He teased, waggling his eyebrows at her.
Lenora felt a blush creep up her neck, and she stuck her tongue out at him. David snickered and suddenly Lenora felt like she was really home.
Lenora and David both turned to look at X. He was stirring again, the arm brushing the floor kept tensing, fist clenching and unclenching. His face was pressed against the futon, muffling anything he may have been saying in his sleep.
The moment passed.
“So… do you know his name?” David asked, quirking an eyebrow at Lenora.
She shrugged. “He introduced himself as X. He had a tattoo on the back of his neck of some roman numerals. X-XIII.”
David shrugged. “I’ve seen weirder names. And weirder people.” He hesitated. “Though, none of them ever killed at least a dozen bouncers who were twice his mass…”
They both shared an uncomfortable chuckle.
X stirred once more, muttering something into the futon again before twisting about under the blanket. Lenora looked over again, happy to see that he hadn’t disturbed his stitches with his moving around. She didn’t see any blood peeking through the gauze, so he had to be alright for now. She made a note to change them later anyway. If X would let her.
“Is he going to be okay?” David shifted his weight. He was watching X too… but the concern was backed by a healthy dose of caution.
Lenora was sure she would be very worried about David if he had blindly trusted X like she had. If he had shown that much trust in her, she would doubt his sanity. As it was she doubted her own stability – but somehow that was different and okay. David was the fun kind of crazy that was harmless, and it would hurt to see that change.
“I think so. I stitched him up pretty well last night. He slept soundly from that point on. Except maybe…three o’clock he woke up? I was already up, that’s when he told me his name.” She tactfully omitted the fight and the hurtful words.
David nodded. Despite his caution, he was willing to believe anything Lenora said on the subject, that much was clear.
X groaned in his sleep again and thrashed once. The movement tossed him over almost entirely. He was mostly face-up now, and Lenora could see the deep creases on his brow.
“Holy crap, what happened to his chest?” David murmured, eyes going wide, and the shutter in his Ocular focusing quickly.
Lenora bit her lip. “I don’t know, I didn’t ask.”
“THAT looks like it hurt. Geez.” David looked away, taking this moment to check the time.
Lenora didn’t answer his speculation. It did look painful – at least it looked like it HAD been painful. The scar tissue itself was smooth and fully healed. For a fleeting moment she wondered if he felt ghostly pain there when the generators above were on the fritz. A lot of people with prosthetic and cybernetics could feel aches and pains when the generators were pushing through some upstairs difficulties.
X started to groan again, but it sounded more like a growl. Lenora could see how tightly his teeth were clenched together.
“He’s going to hurt himself. I’m surprised he hadn’t busted his stitches.”
Oh God, did I do it wrong?
Lenora left David at the island and moved to X’s side. As he lay tensing and murmuring on the futon, she gently lifted part of the bandage and pulled it down so she could see.
Tiny bits of blue thread fell out onto the mattress.
Lenora’s jaw dropped as she stared at clean pink scar tissue.
“Don’t… NO, I…. I’ll kill… I’ll KILL YOU!”
X’s murmurs turned into words, and the words rose from a hoarse whisper into a yell. Lenora looked up at his face, and as his eyes opened she was there – but he was not.
Whatever he dreamed still held him, and his hand came up in a fist to connect with the only thing that appeared clear to him at his moment of waking.
Lenora was sent sprawling to the floor.