Faded off white plastic. Rubbing alcohol. Scratchy fabric. “Sergeant Anson?” a female voice crackled over the speaker, pulling him into reality Fane woke to the inside of a scanning bed, his head strapped into a white cage.
“Yes, ma’am?” He tried to flex his hands but discovered both of them had been strapped down. An IV pinched in his bicep. The tops of his hands pulsed hot. They probably blew the veins before giving up and calling in a pick team.
He pulled at his memories of the doctor’s waiting room. There was a blank between it and the cell. He had dozed off there, but he had no recollection of having left the white room. Did they sedate me? His heart hammered in his chest. Black rings circled his eyes. His hearing turned to white static.
“If you would please hold still, that will make this process go more smoothly,” the voice chastisted his futile attempt at escape.
He sucked in air and counted down from one hundred. His scars burned. The buzz of the machine richocheted . His hands grew damp and the texture of the sheet sent spiders up his nerve endings. He reassured himself that he was still in the hospital, but that did little to ease the tunnel vision, or the unsettled weight in his chest. There’s most likely a good reason that they have me strapped down. He clenched his hands to stop fidgeting. For all his fighting with his inner demons, he could not still the trembling in his legs.
“Now that you’re responding, we are going to measure your cognitive abilities to make sure you are processing visual images properly and connecting their associates correctly. We are going to show you a series of images and ask you to define them. Do you understand?” the woman’s voice instructed calmly.
“Yes, ma’am. You will show me images. I tell you what I see.” He battled with sickening nausea that threatened to engulf him, made worse by knowing he couldn’t roll over if he had to puke.
Images flashed on screen, food, military regiments, flags; it was a wide variety of pictures that made no real sense to him. There was no method to the photographs, but the more they showed him, the more his scars ached, his heart pounded, his hands itched. He gripped the sheet to dry his sweating palms. Why was he having such a reaction to innocuous images? Maybe there really was something the red room woman had given him that was doing damage. A sharp heat wrapped up his spine and spread a burst of numb desire across his stomach. And they can bloody well see my reaction to this. Go away. Down. Stop. Where’s some cold water when I need it? He stared at the pictures in confusion. He was looking at fruit and office supplies. What has happened to my brain?
He lost count of the images that passed by on the screen. The muscles in his back seized up. The thrumming clunk of the machine and vibration of the bed threatened bruises. His stomach growled and pinched painfully. He had not eaten since the party, having missed breakfast, which was regularly served after the annual test. The solitary room and here did little to provide him with a clue as to the time. I could have been here for a few hours. It could be the next month for all I know. I just want to go eat and go back to my bunk and go to sleep.
“Thank you, Sergeant Anson. Nurse Gilbert is going to come help you out of there,” the woman’s voice crackled through the headphones clasped around his ears. The images left the screen. His body went hollow as if something essential had ripped a hole in him. He was on the verge of tears and could not explain why.
Time stood still with the tick of the clock in the next room slowing to a maddening rate. His heart beat fast and hard in his chest in the darkened chamber. Trapped and strung tight he breathed deep on ever other tic of the clock.
“Anson?” a deep baritone caused him to flinch. A button depressed, and the bed finally shifted from inside the machine. He looked up in relief at the open space and a large nurse in black scrubs.
“Hi?” Fane greeted the nurse.
“Hi. I’m Nurse Todd. Let’s get you out of this. Hold still a minute.” The nurse unclasped the cage from around Fane’s head, unbuckled the restraints and gave him a hand to sit up.
“That thing just likes to try beating you to death, doesn’t it?” Fane averted his eyes while Nurse Todd pulled the lines from the machine that injected dyes into the IV and capped the line.
The nurse pressed a mic on his collar. “Hey, can we take his IV out yet, or do you need it still? The edge around it is bleeding.”
“We don’t have him schedule for anymore testing. You can take it out. Is it heavy?” The woman’s voice crackled back on Nurse Todd’s mic.
“Not more than a pressure bandage won’t fix.”
Fane, free of the room and a plaster over the spot on his arm, was lead down a hall to a waiting room. The door clicked shut and a bolt clanked in place. They locked it. What the hell?
Stuck once again in a locked room, he paced from one end to the other. It is better than being strapped into that blasted machine, at least. I’d be happy about not being naked, but they don’t have the decency of giving you a gown worth crap. I’m practically hanging out here and it’s freaking freezing. What happened?
He tried to sit calmly in one of the ten chairs crammed around the tiny room. The cheap upholstery squished with an unsettling sound. The legs wobbled unevenly on the sticky linoleum. He got up and shifted to the next chair. It was the same. He continued this process. The room was too small to pace in. He picked up the chairs and stacked them so that there was two to sit on and eight in a corner. He circled the tiny room, memorizing the sound of the air conditioning system’s whine.
“I believe it is as you suspected.” A woman in a lab coat turned to Dr John. He looked over her shoulder at the images of Fane’s brain scan. Graphs corresponding to the pictures spiked with green oxytocin, yellow dopamine, and blue vasopressin release. Time-stamped images of a large upright metal ring in a warehouse showed a murky algal liquid bubble throbbing with bright citron starbursts in relation to the graphs.
Dr John pointed to a particular set of high spikes. “Show me the image-set that resulted in these.”
The woman in the lab coat tapped a couple of buttons, and a series of twenty thumbnails popped up on the screen, each one marked to different levels on the scan. Each of the high spikes corresponded to a picture that Fane had not been aware of seeing. Short nanosecond flashes of images of Prince Orlov in various states of activity in between longer intervals showing the fruit and office supplies that Fane had identified.
“Professor?” Dr John asked on a comlink.
“Yes, Doctor?” A staticky female voice echoed over the line.
“Did you see what I saw?” Dr John leaned over the screen once more and tapped on the image of the massive ring in the warehouse. The live feed pulled up to take over part of the screen.
“There was an activation spike and a connection line, but it wasn’t powerful enough to open the door,” the woman answered. The doctor nodded his head in wonderment.
Zephyr shifted out of the shadows in a dark corner behind the terminal banks. “What now?”
“Tell him that he hit his head with something, that he’ll be fine in a little while. Get him dressed to impress and have the Prince meet him. With any luck, we’ll get that door opened yet,” Doctor John answered.
“Looks like you needed a Red Room guy, not a woman, Doc. Who would have thought?” Zephyr tossed a wave to the room on his way out the door.
“He seemed to know his way around her well enough!” The Doctor shouted after Zephyr.
“He taught me a few things I didn’t know could be done.” Zephyr pulled the door shut behind him.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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