Adventurer's Notebook: A Scout's Honour (Chapter 7)
The first thing she realized was the pain. A blistering headache encompassed her senses, rational thought something she desperately fought for as she slipped out of her slumber. The room was brilliant, a white light that stabbed into her eyes and made her pain that much worse. She became acutely aware of her sore muscles the bruises across her body, her sore throat, the feel of the sheets across her body. Her ears rang with tinnitus, the steady high pitched tone, driving her deeper into the pain.
Her body started shaking, wracked in shivers. Her arms and legs were numb, unable or unwilling to respond. She did the only thing she could think of, rolling to her side, her head tilted as she vomited. Her throat burned.
Incoherent yelling in the background. Hands seized her and rolled her further to one side. Something in her chest caused another round of pain. She lost any conscious idea of what occurred, her body convulsing, heaving, ultimately causing her to start curling into the foetal position. More hands grasped her, more voices. They were closer this time, louder.
‘Stop yelling. Dear god, stop yelling,’ she begged.
They didn’t stop.
One of her arms felt peculiarly cool. Placed her on her back, the cooling sensation spread throughout her body. A terribly odd feeling prevailed, like she was floating; it made the ringing in her ears almost bearable. She still didn’t dare open her eyes.
From far off, she thought she heard her name. Like a whisper in the wind, it floated just at the edge of her consciousness. It persisted, repeating. She took a few breathes to calm herself. The floating sensation ceased, replaced by an unbelievable comfort that made her recall those times in her childhood when she wrapped herself in a soft woollen blanket in front of a roaring fire on a cold night.
‘Is it even my name?’
A hand caressed her shoulder, gently shaking her. She felt the heat of someone close to her, their cheek nearly resting against her. Their breath tickled her ear, the whisper becoming more discernible. The words were there, but the clear indication of what they said still eluded her, the ringing still too commanding. The frustration of it began to build, her eyes straining despite the brilliance, her mind now fighting through the haze.
As her eyes creeped open, she groaned. She raised her arm, a reflex to block the light. Whoever had flicked the switch to dim the lights was her new favourite person. She worked her mouth, trying to ignore the taste of bile and plastic. A straw touched her lips. She slowly moved her lips took a sip. The cool water slaked down her throat, and she suddenly reassessed who her favourite person would be. If she was lucky, they would be one and the same.
“Don’t try to speak, not just yet, Duke.” The woman’s voice was soothing, motherly. It had exactly the effect she needed to finish opening her eyes.
“Hey there, kiddo,” she said. “My name’s Ripper.” The woman leaning over her was dressed in a doctor’s white coat. The light from surrounding sources reflected brilliantly off the pristine material. Micheline didn’t see her holding a cup of water, she wasn’t anywhere near a light switch either. She glanced around, noticing for the first time where she was. A bank of machines next to her bed beeped every so often, a number of wires connected to her face, arms and her chest. Around the edge of a cloth divider, she could see other figures laying in similarly equipped bed spaces.
“Where,” she managed after several croaking attempts.
“Look straight ahead for a second,” she warned. A penlight clicked; Ripper held open Micheline’s eyelids as she shone the light into each eye. The stabbing pain of her headache roared to life again. This one definitely wasn’t one of her favourite people, not in the slightest.
“Do you remember being brought here? Nod or shake your head,” she paused. “I figured you wouldn’t.” She leaned back and produced a tablet from the instrument panel. “You are in the medical clinic back at Acton Vale. You’re in the lucky minority. Typically MSI team members that come here don’t ever walk out again.”
Micheline tried to sit up, her stomach threatening another violently disagreeable episode.
“Lay back down, relax,” she warned. “You were part of the security operation on the way to Sherbrooke. The convoy was ambushed. Do you remember this? Good. After the jamming equipment was destroyed, MSI received the distress signal. Apparently so had the Free Quebec military. They diverted some patrol resources and assisted in routing the ambushers.
“Before that happened though, as Jack and Jill put it, you decided to head butt a plasma blast. As your physician, not something I recommend you repeat. You suffered a severe concussion and developed some inter-cranial swelling, but we repaired the damage. We had to intubate you while we induced a coma for a few days. Your throat will be a little rough and you’ll be weak.
“Adnix reported how you shielded Preacher, which certainly explains the state of the rest of you and your armour when you were wheeled in here. You have severe bruising across the left half of your body, as well as energy burns and lacerations. The armour was a complete write-off. Apparently the only reason you survived is because our resident magic user put up a shield to keep you from getting overrun,” she sneered.
“Jonas?” Her voice croaked.
“In recovery. I had to replace the arm, but we fitted him with a bio-prosthetic. He’ll be up and around, probably well before you will.”
A nurse came over and whispered into Ripper’s ear. She engaged her cybernetic ear and heard every word clearly. “Yes,” she said as the nurse finished. “Want. To. See him,” she croaked.
The nurse twisted her face, put out that she had been overheard. “Sorry Duke, I forgot about those ears of yours. Doctor?”
“I’ll give him a few minutes with you. Might even help in your recovery,” she shrugged. “She shows any sign of relapse, Philippe knows who runs this wing. He won’t give you any problems.”
“I’ll let him in.”
Philippe followed the nurse in a few moments later. He wore a set of grey MSI coveralls. Despite the watchful eye of the nurse, he pulled out two miniature bottles of whiskey, offering Micheline one. The nurse nearly bolted out of her chair before Philippe waved her off, pulling back the bottles. “A joke, Vanessa, just a joke. These are for me,” he explained. Cracking the seal on one, he downed it in one long gulp. He opened the second and took a more appreciative sip.
“What a fucking day,” he exhaled. “I spent all morning in a debrief with Gemini and the old man, Massey. I’m beginning to see why you dislike that woman.”
“Mon oncle,” she managed.
Philippe laughed uproariously at Vanessa’s gobsmacked reaction. Micheline managed a toothy grin.
“What happened,” she fought to ask.
“Julius had us dead to rights is what happened. Location, set-up, a separate force to keep Six-Delta pinned while they hit the convoy proper. He had the exact information he needed to plan that fracas. The old man isn’t saying it, but he is fuming. Someone sold out that caravan and he isn’t looking internally for the leak. Well, not anymore.
“We scraped through, but not without losses. Honestly, one of the things that saved us was those pricks didn’t shell out for everyone to have environmental armour. Adnix and his forest fires pretty much secured that one flank. By the time Kennie showed up, I was finally able to start pressuring Julius and his cronies up near the front. Anna ended up doing most of the dirty work. That woman,” he sighed, shaking his head and raising his bottle in a toast. “She spent a day in here recovering, but they discharged her shortly after. Those Juicer bio-comps are the real deal.
“At the end of it, we got lucky. Ultimately a flight of SAMAS returning from patrol of the southern border picked up the distress signal. Their rail guns scattered the ambushers on the first flyby. Unfortunately they allowed some of them to escape on their hover cycles.”
“The first to get away. The SAMs tried to catch him, but apparently he tricked out his engines and was actually able to outrun them. No idea if they caught him, but as Kennie put it, Julius was ‘flying fierce and dangerous.’ Given how Kennie drives, that’s saying something.”
“Two minutes, Philippe,” Vanessa warned as she monitored the machinery next to Micheline’s bed.
He absently waved back. “Six-Delta lives to fight another day. A little beaten and scarred, but still intact. You had us worried for a spell,” he added, raising his bottle in another toast. “When Ripper gives you the go ahead, we’ll swing by to get you.”
“Still here,” he answered, waving vaguely off to the side. “Asleep when I walked by. He looked a damned sight better than you,” he chided.
“We’ll get her back to you as soon as she recovers,” Vanessa commented. “For now though, out.”
Micheline feebly waved as Philippe left, his two empty bottles shoved back into his pockets. Vanessa clicked a few machines, drawing the curtain behind her, Micheline’s eyes already shut.