by Jason Mather
Copyright © 2017 by Jason Mather
The dead woman was crying.
Rain poured through a hole in the roof, the bleak sky beyond the shattered timbers indistinguishable from the dirty, peeling white ceiling, ready to come crashing down. A chandelier hung improbably underneath, its filthy sconces filled to overflowing, its once ornate iron rusted and shabby, providing a makeshift sluice for the rain to wander down, pooling underneath the shallow arches at its bottom, combining and impregnating one another with grime from metal and sky, falling heavily onto the charnel house below.
She sat nearly upright in a chair that had once been some kind of plush red fabric, head cocked slightly, hair cascading over the hole in her neck. Water fell from the chandelier above, landing in her hair, making its way slowly down her face, pooling in the crevices of her glazed eyes, dripping down pale cheeks, curving up under her chin, down neck and torso, mixing with the slowing blood flow, some soaked up by the low-cut top, some making its way down the curve of one naked breast, torn from its covering.
Rarely can one cry for one’s own death. He certainly couldn’t. Couldn’t cry, couldn’t yell, couldn’t move, couldn’t feel anything beyond face and lips. Probably a blessing. Whatever had hit him had not left much worth feeling. Something had torn its way through this room, a tornado of whirling metal and flying shrapnel, before exiting through the roof. Had the other two escaped? Unlikely.
It was not how he’d imagined dying.
He was not afraid to die, merely angry that it was right here, right now. It was his reputation he grieved for, here among these dead lowlifes. Chiding himself for pointless vanity, he tried to shut his eyes. Let death take him. They wouldn’t move.
She was smirking at him, privy to his thoughts and the great cosmic joke that had brought them both here.
Five hundred. That’s what he’d been offered. A man on a corner waved it and the package under his nose. Five hundred to walk the package three blocks and up two flights of stairs. Five hundred that would pay to get him outside the city limits and onto a monorail headed home. Five hundred he desperately needed. Five hundred that now sat, wasted, in his jacket, currently piled on the floor by the dead woman’s impractical stilettos.
Her smirk taunted him. Smirk all you want, lady, you’re just as dead as me, even more so at the moment, sitting there obscenely exposed to a perfect stranger, lacking even the propriety to cover up that bloody tit of yours.
She’d met him at the door with a slightly raised eyebrow and a frown, before melting back into the dark apartment, which did not yet have its meager skylight. Two men had frisked him, both in identical suits and overcoats. She’d handed him the money without a word, gingerly taken the box from him, and had turned to leave when … something … had ended it all. A mere breath or two. Three dead crooks and one dying idiot.
A keening sound was coming from a direction he couldn’t identify. Maybe sirens. Maybe it was his oxygen-starved brain. The light coming through the skylight flickered slightly, though the possibility of it just being his eyes finally giving out was more likely.
There were worse ways to go, he guessed, and worse final sights, though he’d never been a breast man.
He opened his eyes, startled. The bland normalcy that greeted him approached the surreal. He was propped up in a small bed with a deep mahogany footboard. The headboard was likely of the same material, but, as he was currently unable to move his head, he would make no assumptions. A window made up the whole wall to his left, the view dominated by immense vertical farms. Great glass spires filled with the machinery of the new agriculture, enough to feed the population of millions, with food left over for trade with other city-states. Bridges seemingly made of crystal connected them together every dozen floors, landing pads sticking out like misshapen ears.
Beige walls. Beige floors. Beige curtains. Beige sheets. About the only thing in the room that wasn’t beige was a small viewscreen showing a stream of numbers and graphs that could have been anything from stock market figures to vital stats.
A hospital then, the assumption based on a dawning realization that he had somehow survived. He wasn’t counting out dying just yet, though, mostly because of what he could, and couldn’t, feel. He could feel his feet and hands, move his fingers and toes, though only just. His stomach felt slightly hungry, his lungs breathed easily, heart pumping calmly, any elevation due to the strangeness of his current environment. More importantly, and critically, other than a slightly dry mouth and some mild discomfort from some kind of restraints on his hands, feet, and head, he felt no pain. Last he knew his guts had been spread around a small, empty apartment, blood covering ancient blue shag. If he was really still alive, and he still couldn’t quite assure himself of that, then he was thoroughly confused … and pissed off.
He pulled weakly on the restraints. It did no good, but it didn’t matter. He’d never been able to handle any sort of restraint, physical or mental. When he pulled hard enough he noticed the viewscreen numbers started to scroll faster and turn slightly red; even harder and a speaker set in the ceiling began to beep softly. How fast could he get them to scroll? Could he get the beep any louder? Pulling against all the restraints simultaneously produced the most satisfying results. He balled up his abdomen and legs, pulled as strongly as his weakened state would allow. He had no illusions about breaking the restraints; he just hoped he was annoying somebody.
The door opened and a man entered. He didn’t appear to be a doctor. No white coat or green scrubs, just a tweed suit and loafers.
“Those restraints are designed to stop psychiatric inmates in the midst of a psychotic episode, pulling on them like that is just going to bruise your limbs.” He turned and tapped the screen, causing it to go black and the beeping to stop.
His snappy retort was stopped by a coughing fit.
“Really, Hans, pulling on your restraints to get my attention was unnecessary. There’s a call button right underneath your right hand.”
Hans did not try to respond this time. This man had the advantage of knowledge and freedom over him, and Hans would not participate in this glib charade.
“There is a water tube just to the left of your mouth. I’m going to release your head. Don’t drink too quickly, as your digestive track is not accustomed to food and water yet.” The man tapped the screen again and Hans could move his head. He found the water tube and sucked mightily on it. After three large gulps, his stomach revolted and sent most of it back up over the sheets covering him, and, in his partially prone position, nearly drowning him. He lay coughing and staring petulantly at the ceiling.
The man laughed heartily.
“If you’re trying to kill yourself, I can bring a morphine pump or something equally efficient. There’s no need to drown yourself.”
Hans’ choked epithet elicited another laugh. The man sat in an unseen chair by the headboard.
“I was told you were a bit strong-willed, and I know you’re confused by your current situation. I’m here to answer your questions. My name is Doctor Laud.”
“You are currently on the fifty-sixth floor of Denver General. The hospice wing, though you are no longer dying, as you may have discovered. Before you ask, you are not a prisoner. Those restraints are there to keep you from rolling over and suffocating yourself. You’ve been in medical stasis while we repaired your injuries.”
“How long?” Hans was stupidly pleased that he had managed to choke out two words back to back without coughing.
Hans’ eyes widened.
“I have seen very few people recover from the injuries you sustained. We had to replace nearly forty percent of your internal workings. New heart. New lungs. Two new kidneys. Twelve feet of small intestine. One third of your liver. A completely new pancreas. It takes quite a while to grow these things, and you being conscious would have been a hell of numb paralysis while the machines kept you alive.”
Hans kept silent at this news, suppressing anger by staring out the window. The sun sat low behind the buildings. He didn’t know which way the window faced and the buildings obscured possible mountains, so he did not know whether this meant morning or evening. He’d lost over a year, and did not expect to assimilate this knowledge well or quickly. More importantly, the system had ignored his express wishes. His medical file spelled out explicitly that he was not to be revived or rebuilt.
“The decision to keep you alive was not mine,” Laud predicted his thoughts. “You were nearly killed under highly suspicious circumstances in which you were the only survivor. This is all the information to which I was privy. I imagine others will want to talk to you.”
Hans rolled his eyes. The doctor chuckled again.