Acid, chapter 4: the tower card

Louis Calvert

Acid, chapter 4: the tower card
September 14, 2020 Louis Calvert

“Medichimps don’t care who they’re treating. In many ways, they’re the perfect medical staff; they just apply their knowledge to anything they think needs help, heedless of politics or cost. Most of the time paramedics and hospital staff are there to simply stop medichimps exceeding treatment budgets or giving out free medication. This annoying trait has proven resilient to baseline modifications and seems to persist across generations, despite early attempts at negative reinforcement training.”

Extract from Breeder’s Notes: A Compendium by Florentine McDonnel

Asir lay awake. Marie gently snored and Jacob mumbled, dreaming. It was very dark, very comfortable, with the musty humanness of co-mingled bodies; but somehow, every time she closed her eyes she saw a purple afterglow, and a figure whipping, impossibly fast, imposing itself as negative space. 

It was late now, night-time. She should be sleeping, should be happy. It was over and she was alive. 

I am alive. 

She kept repeating the word to herself — a mantra that didn’t feel true.

Asir sighed and rolled out of bed, carefully shifting slowly so as not to wake her spouses. She crept down the short hallway, not really aiming to end up anywhere, just following her feet. She found herself in the small kitchen. The dispenser clunked out a cool glass of something. She couldn’t remember what she’d dialled; it didn’t feel important to know.

She sat at the little breakfast table in the wan glow from lonely standby lights on the appliances, and stared at the bubbles forming in her glass of whatever-it-was. Oddly, she could almost hear the popping of the tiny carbonations expiring; they sounded like gunshots. She had a strange sensation of falling into the glass, the bubbles larger than they should have been… Bubbles of air in a choking liquid, a strange perspective that stretched thin and thick, leaving her feeling odd, feverish…

The light came on. Startled, Asir half-stood in confusion, and accidentally pushed the glass off the table. It clunked on to the floor and the liquid spread like it was fleeing arrest. 

Flat. How long have I been here?

Marie was kneeling and dabbing at the liquid with a cloth, spent glass in one hand. She disposed of the sodden cloth and dropped the glass into the recycler, then turned and wrapped her arms around Asir. 

“So. Tell me.”

Asir dabbed at tears, wondering why she was crying. She didn’t think she should be, didn’t feel like crying; but the tears wouldn’t stop. Slowly, she related the attack on the Castillo Tower; how she’d seen the monster hack apart three gorillas like they were training dummies, then watching on the security feed as the second team encountered the lone assassin in the dining room. Four were killed by a grenade blast. Two surviving gorillas would be scarred forever, and her second-in-command Kyle was given early retirement with full medical benefits. He would be having both hands replaced, lots of internal damage as well as his hearing repaired and recalibrated — and that was just the initial assessment. Post-traumatic stress would likely take years to fully resolve, if ever. The Castillos were kind, and had taken care of him over and above the normal hazard duty payout.

Asir couldn’t articulate how she felt. It was all broken into discrete packets of feelings that didn’t seem to connect. “It was just wrong. Like the laws of the universe broke…”

Slowly Marie coaxed out the rest of the awful night.

After the banquet hall, the monster had been passively tracked. It had been injured badly in the blast, but just kept going; like a machine with failing parts, too dumb to know it was breaking down. They’d staged an ambush at the stairs, but after a few shots it was clear the assassin wasn’t much of a threat any more. It fired a few random return shots as it staggered up the steps, dropping its gun along the way.

“Castillo ordered everyone back. ‘No sense risking any more casualties from any more tricks,’ she’d said, a bit late—” Asir cut herself off, squashing the disloyal thoughts. “We all pulled back to the main offices. Castillo still wanted to try to recruit the assassin.”

Asir didn’t like talking badly of her Pator, but it did seem a big, unnecessary risk. Especially since the initial order to capture, not kill, had resulted in so many deaths already.

“Did the assassin make it all the way?” Marie asked gently, as she poured soothing tea into their favourite pair of mugs. Asir didn’t remember her making it. It was taking a long time to assemble each part. It felt like prodding around a toothache; somehow unable to resist exploring the edges of the pain, but equally unwilling to push too hard.

“She made it. Somehow. Her leg was… bad. Folded under her, shattered, but she didn’t even notice. She was covered in blood, more blood than anything I’ve seen. Splinters maybe, from the dining room. I was close to the desk; I could see her face. She was fading in and out, but just somehow kept herself going, focusing on Castillo. It was like watching someone die, over and over. I mean, sort of.” Asir sipped her tea, absent-mindedly. “Then she fell forward, and just… went off like a rocket.”

“What do you mean?”

“She must have been on stims. There’s no other way anyone could have kept going through that. She must have popped some more, because she fell forward, then leapt sideways. She had a small knife; killed two of my people with it. I don’t know how. I’m telling you, her leg was barely attached at that point. She got shot maybe five, six times, but still kept going. She charged Castillo at the desk. The other guards…”

Marie waited. Asir went… somewhere else, for a long few seconds.

“She just came right for Castillo. The others didn’t have a shot, couldn’t risk a shot. I shot her — it, the Monitor — hit her, its shoulder, damn near took the whole arm off. I think only her clothes held it on. But she landed on the desk and tried to drag herself across it with her good arm, blood everywhere…”

Asir couldn’t wipe away tears and snot fast enough. Her shaking hands could barely hold the tissues she was clutching in handfuls, confused as to where they came from. 

“She was making a sort of whine, like an animal. She was an animal. Wild, crazed. Eyes rolling in her head, face so distorted it was… inhuman. I’ll never forget that sound…”

“Was that… the end?”

“No.” Asir choked the word out around another sob. “Castillo took the knife from the assassin’s hand. It was like she, it, couldn’t even hold it any more. Castillo stabbed her, really slowly — just pushed the blade into her back, twice… Then her face… Carved out an eye… And just flicked it across the desk. Then the Pator just got up and went into the back office. She — it — was still alive when we took her out; the assassin, I mean. Me and two others carried her. She was still warm, still breathing, bleeding…” 

Asir was still now, holding herself totally rigid. The sobbing seemed to have ended, though her whole body hurt, like she’d been beaten.

“How?” It was all Marie could think of. Asir just shook her head.

“We took her to the security room, and the rest left to see to Kyle. So… It was my duty to stand guard, in there with… her. She was breathing… The noise. Like… ragged bubbling. It was horrible. She just wouldn’t die. I don’t… I didn’t know what to do. She was whimpering quietly, and sort of making a grunting noise sometimes.”

“And?” Marie prompted gently. She found herself sitting as rigidly as her wife now; the room felt colder, darker, as though they shared a private bubble of life.

“And… I sat there for maybe half an hour, and held my gun. I wanted to…” Tears burst from Asir’s eyes, unnoticed. “If it, she, had turned our way instead of attacking the gorillas at first… but I couldn’t. Didn’t. Do it, I mean.”

Marie felt something change. She breathed.

Asir shifted, dropped damp tissues on the table, picked up the cold tea and sipped. Grimaced slightly, sipped again. “Then the medichimps came with stretchers and took her — the body — away. Took all the bodies. Pator Castillo came to the security station herself, and thanked us all. Told us about Kyle and gave us all six weeks’ extra holiday and a really nice hazard bonus, and that’s it.”

“Shitty day, eh?” Jacob said from the doorway, Asir didn’t remember him coming in.

She laughed once, then snuffled. “Yeah. The worst.”

In the morning, with Asir finally asleep curled on the sofa, Jacob called the Castillo medical office to arrange a meeting with the psychological consultant.

“Yes Mr Prester, the Chief is already booked in. It’s an open slot, come when you’re ready. We’ll look after her. Pator Castillo is taking care of the bills personally.”

 

A crowd of medichimps ran triage on the casualties in the Castillo Tower and quickly divided the living from the dead. They did what they could to stabilise the two human survivors and loaded them into ambulances. A smaller group patched up the surviving gorillas. Service animals didn’t normally justify medical treatment but the Castillo Corporation didn’t like to waste an investment, and battle-experienced guards of any species could be an asset.

Two ambulances left the Tower. One held the wounded guard, Kyle Simms-Yala. The second held a barely-alive Denica. En-route, the medichimps stripped off her smashed body armour and the shredded bodysuit under that; plugged the majority of the bleeding; and cut away the last shreds that kept her arm attached, keeping the limb safe for potential reattachment later. They stuffed her eye socket, multiple bullet wounds and deep lacerations with healgel, and concentrated on purging the cocktail of toxins from her blood in anticipation of a rapid entry to the surgical unit. Her leg was beyond saving, but it would require major surgery to deal with. The chimps just made sure it was stable and immobilised it entirely in a healgel-coated spray-cast. 

The ambulance pulled up at the emergency door of Summerfield General Hospital. It slid into the docking port and the driver swung out, signed rapidly to the medichimps emerging from the side doors, and loped off towards the ready room. Denica was carefully wheeled towards the admittance door, where her remaining eye was scanned. 

“Huh?” The young admission clerk leaned out of the small kiosk window. “That didn’t work. Try a fingerprint?” One of the chimps nodded and pressed Denica’s thumb on a pad.

 “No… Same. Ok, blood sample?”

The screen bleeped. Still nothing. The admission clerk scratched their head — this was a new one.

A paramedic emerged from the double doors and started reading the medichimps’ notes, nodding as they signed to him with updates. She checked the woman’s vitals. 

“What’s the delay?”

“No records, at all — nothing.” The young clerk seemed puzzled. “I’ve never seen that before, ever.”

There was a pause from outside. The clerk poked their head out of the kiosk window again, and saw the paramedic staring at the body on the stretcher. Had the patient just died?

“Shit, fuck, shit!” the Paramedic mumbled. “She’s fucking Unspoken, that’s why. Fuck.”

The pair stared at each other. Medichimps scurried about, restocking the ambulance and prepping extra medical supplies for Denica’s trolley, just in case she crashed. They were oblivious to the moral dilemma happening in the human world.

“We can’t?”

The paramedic was pale. “No. We can’t.”

“…But…” The clerk looked at the body on the stretcher. Tubes snaked out of her, dark stains already discolouring the bandages sprayed over most of her body, her leg immobilised in plastic brackets, arm entirely missing, stump covered in healgel and more spray-bandages. Medical monitors chirped and pinged away to each other.

“How can we? There’s no way to process her through the system — we can’t even get her through that door. And even if we did, what then? What surgeon would work on her for free? And knowing she’s… you know…?”

“And, I guess, even if someone did, what if we get reported for letting her in, right?” mused the clerk.

They stared at each other again.

The paramedic looked away, swore rapidly again, then grabbed three chimps. “You three, take this stretcher and push it down the waste chute.”

The chimps looked at each other, then at the stretcher. One of them signed rapidly.

Patient still on stretcher.

The paramedic uncoupled the monitors and sighed sadly. “No, she’s dead — so go ahead, it’s fine.”

The chimps didn’t move. They signed back and forth between themselves so fast that the paramedic couldn’t follow all of it. They weren’t convinced. One of them, the paramedic wasn’t sure if it was the same one as before, signed: she’s alive. It held out a slate showing the last update from the telemetry before the paramedic decoupled them.

“Look, you little fuckers, she’s dead. Gone. No-one. Doesn’t matter what you think. I’m telling you to get rid of her. Now.” 

The chimps cowered, grunting amongst themselves, then signed rapidly again. Two of them went to the stretcher but seemed reluctant to move it. The third kept looking at the data on the slate, as though trying to figure something out.

“Look, ok. I’ll get rid of it, but you deal with them,” said the clerk finally.

The paramedic shooed the three chimps into the back of the ambulance and closed the door. The clerk, looking pale, wheeled the stretcher away down a dim service corridor.