The soothingly constant beep of a heartbeat monitor brought me from the darkness. My eyes stung at first but quickly adjusted to the light. I saw an old fluorescent tube, alone in a space meant for two, next to a ceiling panel that was missing. Allowing me to see the electrical conduit running along the steel girder.
“Ah.” said a soft voice, reminding me of a young mother. “Looks like you’re up and about.”
I tilted my head forward and saw her. Not a young mother, but a young doctor. She had dark cocoa skin and her long curly hair tied back behind her head, a pair of stylish tech specs with clear lenses shielded her eyes. She smiled and raised the tech specs up above her forehead.
She was easily hot enough to be the minority love-interest on a prime-time medical drama.
I let out an exasperated sigh. “Another bloody hospital.”
The Doctor smirked and shrugged. “It’s unavoidable in your profession. I see so many of your kind in here, coming back again and again, it’s a mystery you aren’t better tippers.”
I regarded the Doctor with my impassive stone-face.
“That one usually gets a laugh.” She remarked.
“I imagine your audience is usually so happy to be alive that just the invitation is enough.”
The Doctor muttered under her breath. ‘Damn it he knows my secret.’
Then I laughed.
“Doesn’t that feel better?” The Doctor asked.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “It does. How am I doing?”
“It’s a miracle you’re alive.” She said off-handedly.
I looked down at my body. “We talking the arm or the gut shot here?”
“Gut shot? Pfft! Niggah please. Those AP rounds went right out the other side. Textbook stuff. No your problem was you forgot all about the round that winged your left arm, it was still bleeding out on you the whole time. I’m guessing you’ve got some good pain-editing hardware mounted somewhere in that skull of yours.”
“Spot-on Doc. Good work. What happens now?”
“I’d prefer it if you’d stay in bed, your chest wound may not be fatal but it will reopen if you exert yourself. You’re free to move around the compound if you want, but I’d like you to borrow a wheelchair.”
“Keep the torso immobile, check. Anything else?”
“That’s where you’re pretty lucky, well we both are. That pain editor in your head means I won’t have to prescribe you any of our dwindling pain medication. All you need to do is rest up and heal.”
“This is where you hand me the bill right?”
She smiled. “Because keeping your ass alive ain’t worth nothing once you’re back on your feet. Don’t worry about the bill, you’re Patriot Rap’s guest so this one’s on the house.”
“Really? He’s got that much pull around here?”
“He’s the only person who’s in charge of anything that’s actually trying to make things better. The other ‘Slum Lords’ are just thugs with guns and money and the PMCs like to stay cooped up in their bases until they need to go kill somebody.”
“But PR’s different?”
“Stop flirting with the sexy doctor.” Kitty stuck her head around the doorway. “I’ll tell Tachi.”
Kitty strode in wearing a big puffy black jacket over a short skirt and black tights. With the backpack slung over one shoulder she looked like a Japanese schoolgirl who’s into punk.
“Oh?” My doctor said. “You’re already with someone and felt it was okay to be cute with me?”
“Tachi’s only my partner in crime.” I told the doctor, then I tilted my head to look at the approaching Kitty. “Damn it woman, you’re scaring her away.”
The doctor blinked a few times and smiled. “Excuse me, but I’m a married woman.”
“Damn it Kitty.” I said. “Now look what you’ve done. You made her married.”
Now it was the Doctor’s turn to laugh.
Kitty parked her arse on the corner of my bed and crossed her booted legs. “How’s he going doc? Will he live?”
“He’s fine. If he promises to be good from now on he might even avoid a return stay in our accommodations.”
“Then I’d better make sure I stay a bad boy….”
“Oh shut up Dust.” Kitty groaned. “Let the poor woman go.”
“Do you mind? I’m trying to score here.”
The doctor smirked again. “We’ll it’s good to see you’re up and around Mr Dust. Patriot Rap likes to ensure his guests are feeling well. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other, less entertaining, but no less important patients to look after.”
“Bye.” Kitty waved. “Thanks for putting up with him.”
“Bye sexy doctor-lady.” I waved as well.
The doctor returned our wave and glided silently out of the room.
“So.” I said to Kitty. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Kitty slung the bag off her back and reached for the zip. “Atom missed you, he wanted to say ‘hi’”
“Can he hang on a minute?” I asked. “I want to debrief everyone over how the Meadows job went down.”
Atom sent me a Bluetooth chat request. I denied it. Kitty wrinkled her nose at something.
“Where’s Tachi?” I asked.
“He’s getting fixed up at the chop shop?”
“They can fix cyborgs here?”
“They’ve got a skeleton-crew hospital on-site, compared to that a cybertech chop-chop is nothing.”
“Shit!” I looked dumbfounded at Kitty. “How big is the set-up here?”
Kitty smiled, slipped Atom’s bag back on her shoulder and stood up. “It’s huge. Let me show you around.”
I got the idea when Kitty pushed me from the infirmary to the cybernetics shop.
“This whole compound used to be called Jamestown multi-district high school.” Kitty explained. “I looked into it while you were out. The board of education decided that building one massive super school would be more economic than a half-dozen district schools. PR even went to high school here.”
That much was clear from the stars and stripes everywhere you looked. Equally clear was how much they’d modified it since taking over.
“Now this place is a fortress.” Kitty pointed at a stack of abandoned cars that lined the side of the baseball field, which had been turned into a vegetable garden.
“The car wrecks make this place impossible to break into without a tank. On the other side of the wrecks is a chain-link fence topped with razor wire. There’s also a single strand of monofilament hidden amongst it, every now and then a pigeon slices itself in half trying on land on the razor wire.”
Guard towers made out of scavenged building materials had been placed evenly along the edge as well. Only a few of them were occupied right now.
I shrugged. “A cool wall is nice, but unless it’s covered by rifle it’s just an engineering problem waiting to be solved.”
“The wire has just enough current going through it to alert the guards should anyone try to cut their way in. So there’s no way past it by stealth. And if someone did just try to blast their way in it’d be hard to miss the sound. You’d still have an army to fight off as soon as you set foot inside.”
“Can’t argue with that.” I said. “How big is the population here that they can sustain their own doctor and cybertech clinic?”
“Don’t know the exact numbers.” Kitty said before pointing out to a series of demountables out on the parking lot. “But the majority of the civilian population lives out there.”
“Really?” I asked. The demountables were stacked two high, a faded elementary school logo on the side of one of them suggested they had been moved here from elsewhere. They were arranged in a semi-circle that took up the entire parking lot, leaving only a single demountable sitting in the middle of the courtyard that resulted. “What? Do they just cram a family into one of those and tell ’em, ‘that’s your home now’?”
Kitty gave me an amused look. “Not just one. And they don’t cram them in there from what I can tell. People move around until they find a spot with neighbours they’re comfortable with.”
She pointed at the demountable in the middle. “That one’s the school house.”
I had actually stopped paying attention at that point. Not because Kitty was losing me, but because a robot made of solid gold strutted right passed me like he owned the place.
“What. The. Fuck?”
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