“You got to keep cleaning the wound, Miss Gandry, or it’ll get infected again.” Lee swabbed the woman’s lacerated shoulder.
“I know, I know, but with the kids,” she said in a tired wheeze as her little girl, Shelly, ran full pelt and screaming into Lee’s legs, almost knocking him sideways.
“I appreciate that,’ Lee said, and he really did. “But the ash falls have started.” He pointed out of the clinic window to the street outside. The neon lights of the city were broken occasionally by the punctuation of ash motes floating lazily in the air. It wouldn’t be long until the breathing problems endemic to the under-city started to worsen, and the hospital’s corridors were flooded with patients. Every winter this happened. And every winter Lee said he’d quit. Yet, here he was.
Lee reached out and took Shelly’s hand.
“Hey, hey, has your mum ever told you about snow?”
Miss Gandry laughed. “That’s just a silly story.” Miss Gandry was tired, of course she was tired, and in the warmth and low light of the hospital room she fought to keep her eyelids open.
Lee considered. “Well I like it. See, Shelly, Shelly, hey,” he said, fighting for her attention. He heard the whir of her cybernetic eye focusing on him, it’s small teal light not quite matched to her green iris. She’d need an early re-calibration. “In a time long ago, back when the world was, well, when the divisions weren’t quite so deep, it would snow. That’s when ice crystals form in the clouds above and fall like the ash falls outside. Now, we never get real weather at all. It’s all a cast off from the city above. But on the day when the Einz falls, and the rich families lose all their money, they say the Earth-Reaper plants will stop, that the ash clouds will clear, and in their place will fall crisp, white snow. And we will be able to get out of the Trine. Wouldn’t that be something, Shelly?”
Shelly only stared at him, and he couldn’t tell if she was entranced or whether she had simply slipped somewhere into her own head again. Birth defects and mental impairment were common in the Trine, and Miss Gandry’s kids were no exception.
“You got her to stop screaming, Doc, I reckon that’s a miracle enough, never mind snow.” Miss Gandry chuckled, her long violet hair shifting on her shoulders as she reached an arm out for her baby girl.
“Maybe you’re right,” Lee said. Though, in truth, sometimes the thought of that snow was all that let him get through the endless night.
‘I’ll redress the wound and give you some biocane to take home. Only two vials though, Miss Gandry, I’m sorry.”
“But that won’t do nothing to get me to sleep.”
“I know, but ever since the Einz tightened supply checks we’ve had to synthesise our own drugs, and our crop’s been bad. It’s all we can spare you.”
Miss Gandry looked mighty sour but didn’t complain further. She pulled her daughter up onto her lap, there on the metal table, and began to sing to her. Miss Gandry had a wonderful voice, all deep and syrupy like the bottom of the coffee pot when it’s been left on the heat too long, but somehow not bitter, just rough and right. “I’ll go get you your paperwork,” Lee said. She only nodded.
The corridors were heaving. People in breathing masks were everywhere–you needed them when the ash came down–and it gave the dimly lit corridors the feeling of being insect tunnels, with great scarab beetles and the like scuttling past. The change-over in shift meant that the place was still clean despite the ash fall. Lee hated it. Truly hated it. Because he knew that before the night was out the pristine floors would be darkened by blood and worse. People they could not save.
Lee walked to the nurse’s station at the meeting point of several corridors where head nurse Ella was busy filling out paperwork. “I’ve got Miss Gandry in Four. She needs some biocane. Two vials. But see what you can do about giving her some vitamin packs for the kids, would you? I’m bookimg Shelly in for an augment review. Her eye’s gone lazy again.”
“Sure thing. Er, Lee.”
Lee looked up from the blue-lit computer dock where he was tapping in his notes.
“I was just going to come get you. Your patient is awake.”
Lee’s fingers hovered over the computer pad. He’d not been home for over twenty-four hours, precisely for this reason.
“Go. I got you,” said Ella, tucking her pluming red hair behind one ear. “I’m working triage anyway. I can come get you if we have an emergency.”
“Thank you!” Lee said, already hurrying down the corridor and toward the lift.
What held Jack’s attention was the blankness of the room. All white from floor to ceiling. And there appeared to be no door. Certainly, there were no windows. One could easily mistake this room for a cell. He felt, though, in that way that augments sometimes can, that there was a great deal of data here. That the room was full with transmissions.
The cool air on his bare chest told him that, but for a thin mauve sheet, he was naked. Lines connected him to a sophisticated computer terminal behind that, arching over his oversized bed, almost looked like a halo.
As he clucked his tongue, trying to un-stick it from the roof of his mouth, a new thought came. He couldn’t feel his left leg. He pulled up the sheet to see that his prosthetic leg was gone from below the knee joint. Left there were the sensitive filaments that should connect to the main cybernetic structures of his false limb. He’d had the leg forcibly removed before and so could tell that this had not been a hack-job. There was careful precision at work, and the lines had been capped to prevent him from feeling pain.
“Hello?” he called. A pang of noise ran through his head. A sharp hurt branched across his left temple. Flashes of code flared behind his eyes. He grunted, his chest and neck blushing with the effort of fighting this tide. “Hello?” he said again in his gruff bark. After moments of thick silence where the only sound was his breathing, Jack’d had enough. “I will not be a prisoner,” he said. He shifted his body round, preparing to stand when…
“Don’t get up,” said a man who seemed, then, to melt through the far wall. “You might not feel it, but you’re still weak.”
“You took my leg?” Jack asked of the thin man with the keen gaze.
“You give it back or I will make you give it back.”
The man looked back at Jack, not with contempt, and not exactly with fear either. There was, however, a recognition that Jack was close to breaking point.
“I can bring it back in to you, sure, but can you let me explain first?”
Jack sat there. He had a hazy memory of this doctor. Back on a roof somewhere. “You wired me,” he said.
“Yes. Do you remember what I said to you?”
“Some shit about, I don’t know, the Latrine. People are going to die.” That static in his head again. The influx of information. He winced. “Everyone here…”
“I removed your leg because the viral bullet had corrupted your processing cores. Your other implants got some of the fallout. I’ve suppressed the ghosting. It will take time, but it will clear.”
Another bout of it had Jack feeling woozy. “What’s your name? I know you said, but–”
“Lee. I’m a doctor here.”
“Where is here? This room…”
“It’s a normal room on one of the lower levels of our hospital. The terminal behind you is modifying what you see. We treat everyone in this hospital. Sometimes that means people the Einz, and by extension you, would call criminals.”
Jack only glared. “Is there any part of me you haven’t molested?”
Lee’s green tinted eyebrows met, his dark eyes looked darker still. “I’m truly sorry for that.”
“I can’t do shit with sorry. Now bring me my leg.”
“Listen, I haven’t finished decoding the data, and the messages might be false. I’m hoping it’s Golden Chain propaganda. But I need your help. When I reattach your leg we can walk through the data together–”
“I aren’t walking through anything with you. You wipe the code clean. Either download it or delete it, I don’t give a shit. Then you patch me up and I’m out of here.”
Jack saw it then. Lee’s caring gaze hardened into something like cold metal. “I hacked your Einz computers. Revoked your team’s clearance. I’ve no doubt your friend Sahara will come down here at some point soon anyway, but for now it’s just you and me. You have to help.”
“How do you intend on enforcing that point, Latrine boy?” Jack said, angling his head and giving a wide-eyed glare.
In the stand-off, Jack waited. He waited for pain. He’d reasoned that this here Trine doctor had hacked his every bit of tech. Would enforce his will the way Einz families did. Cold, hard commands. But no such order came. Instead, there was the aw.
“Your mother is Einz. But your father…” Lee said.
Lee turned away. “I will go get you some food. There’s still some more work I can do on my own. We’ll talk more later.”
“I want my leg,” Jack shouted.
“And I want my people to live past the end of the month,” Lee said on the border of the room between being someone and being nothing at all. “Seems we both need something from each other, right?”
The man disappeared into the mist, leaving Jack alone.
Minutes stacked up in searing blocks, making his shoulders heave, his chest tighten, his nerves fray.
He roared and with one brutal hand ripped out every line needling his flesh. Blood flowed, his wounds stung.
When Jack lay back on the bed his cheeks were wet and his throat sore with uncorked hurt.