Tammy watched the second hand sway about the clock face, moving of its own concept of time, which was slower than hers. Idly she wondered if the hand moved just to keep warm. After looking at the goosebumps texturing her skin she wouldn't doubt it.
Eddie started music playing when he'd pulled the curtain closed. The player was glichy, or perhaps had a different opinion of "good music" as it kept switching from the classical "elevator" music to hard-core popular. Eddie'd give it a whack and tune in the station he wanted inbetween poking and proding and inserting and peering. Eventually he settled down into having her stand, lay down, walk, sleep, stare, and think happy thoughts amist a miriad of gadgets, do-hickeys, thingamajigs, and whatzamazallits that radiated, pulsed, burred, shimmied, and spit-up at her. All the time Eddie was making notes on his archaic electronic notepad and hmm-ing or just saying, "Interesting..."
She was long in considering the wisdom of Tiny holding onto her pistol.
Finally, he took a sample of her blood. She unfocused her eyes behind closed lids and tried not to think about it.
It was a vial of red that he tilted back and forth for a moment while he carefully looked in and through what she considered a fairly important part of her. Eddie placed the vial into a big block of a machine which tried to beep at him but only managed to hiss. It let off a little rumble before it casually sucked off a sample of crimson life. "It'll be a while. I'll send someone in with your clothes."
"You might want to hand take her her clothes." Painter got up with a plastic bag and walked into the back.
"Whazza new, doc?"
"Scans show no cyberware. She's still has her appendix, though her records show it was removed a few years ago... probably some doc scamming the system. Blood pressure, temperature, CAT scan, UV reactions and on down the list are fine. She's a bit fatigued, but that's expected. Working up her blood now. Should be about an hour on most of that. We got a caffateria down there. Once she gets out get her something to eat and some juice."
"Zure th'n' doc."
It was easier to be poked than to wait.
The caffeteria consisted of two booths, a refrigerator, and a microwave. Harold complained about it, but finally shushed at Whitehot's insistance.
Eddie'd come by at an hour mummbling something about a "fraggin' piece o' drek" machine to draw another blood sample. In the meantime she'd managed to get down a little juice, but mainly suceeded in leaning against Painter in a booth not quite meant to hold two. The bench across from them was falling apart, so Tiny and Whitehot shared the booth across the way. Both were jacked into Whitehot's cyberdeck playing euchre with an Englishman and a Tea-bag.
Somewhere in staring at her slowly evaporating juice she realized Painter had ahold of her.
It was a long wait.
A very long wait.
Eddie rolled a chair in that had one wheel stuck and one that squeeked while the other two just woblled about. As he sat down there was a little puff of air escaping from the cushion. He fumbled a bit with his frayed blue manilla envelope before he looked her strait in the eyes and said, "You ought to be dead."
She realized that she'd been staring at Eddie's two lower eyes before she carefully closed her mouth, blinked, and gurgled, "Excuse me?"
He tossed the juice towards Tiny, who happened to catch it, and sprayed his papers over the table. He began pointing and flipping papers left (always left) as he rambled. "Look here. You've got so many toxins in your system you should be considered hazardous material. There is almost no carbon dioxide in your blood, instead there is a fine carbon chain. It's not that there isn't any oxygen in your system 'cause your blood is saturated with it. Take a breath and hold it. Let it out when you have to."
He was going too fast. "Huh?"
"Breath in, close your mouth, don't breath out." She got it this time. Eddie just looked at his watch and waited. Painter looked at her then pinched her nose. Tam looked agrivated at him then finally slapped his hand away. "OK, that's enough."
"Whazza time doc."
Whitehot wispered, "Four minutes."
Eddie peered one eye over his shoulder. "And not even flustered. Houdini himself would be envious."
She felt cobwebs muddle her thoughts and had to shake herself a bit to stop staring at the wall. "So what's it mean?"
"I have no friggin' clue."
"Huh?" Almost a chorus.
"I know someone, or rather of someone, who may be able to shed some light into this. She'd a bit... excentric... but she has lines of information that are pretty flash. I should be able to get you a meeting, if you can wait a couple of days."
"The world's leading expert in covert going-ons. With the way your system had to be rigged I can't think of anyone better. One thing about her though. You know a fixer goes by the name of Jumpy?"
Painter seemed to be making sure she wasn't going to fall off the edge of the bench. "Short guy, stays in Thams all the time, thinks the world is out to get him, has more counterserveilance measures than all the Ops groups combined? Yea we've done some deals with him."
"Good, 'cause she's worse."
The doorman and the bellhop hadn't been able to move fast enough -- once they were recognized. Or rather once she was recognized. Tiny's clothes had ripped from scraping against the corridors and all of them were a bit scruffy with a thin layer of carbon black settled over them. She wasn't so bad off, though.
While at the front desk Painter had asked for extra towels.
They'd still managed to be one short.
Feeling a bit cleaner, she slumped to her bed, grabbing the trid remote on the way. The headboard was a rather uncomfortable so she punched a pillow behind her back. Tammy stifled a yawn as she tried to focus on the trid screen, not wanting to drift off and dream. When Painter grumbled out of the bathroom, he found her slumped over, remote in hand and a little line of drool working its way down her chin. Gently, he scooted her down and pulled the covers over her.
Everything was burning with the sound of the flames like the screams of the dead just cindered.
The screaming continued but he was awake. Painter ran out of breath.
"You OK?" He could see her propped up and warm with the flush of adrenaline. She'd been rolling about the bed, warming one spot for a moment then another. He switched from thermographic to low light.
"Yea, I'll be fine." He closed his eyes and rolled over with his back to her. He could hear her settle down, but she didn't take her eyes off of him. She didn't have his eyes, but she thought she could see the covers rise and fall as he took in his soundless breath.
"What do you see when the demons come?"
There was a long pause, so long that she thought he wasn't going to answer. "I'm on the ridge -- somewhere. Sometimes there is snow, sometimes sand. It doesn't really matter. I can't see them, but there are dots where they're powered down to avoid detection. The client isn't looking for anything and we can hit any time, but we're patient, biding our time. The time comes and they power up. Still can't see them, but the little dots move with their tagged names. The terrain doesn't offer much difficulty in moving, both our advantage and theirs, so we're moving in fast. I've scoped in a few targets, painted them up real nice. We'd checked-in by the numbers and gone to radio-silence. Two seconds then one and I'd fire. One dot just disappeared. That just doesn't happen. Then another vanished. We tried to regroup, but they knew we were coming. I was up on the hill, far enough away to see it all. Couldn't do drek. So I got in Maria and drove. Wound up in some run-down hotel with just the fifty-percent up-front. Made a call to a dealer who owed the commander.
"I'm it. I'm the survivor. Commander always said I was. I was lucky. Just not for them. Not that job. Not that day."
She placed one hand on his shoulder. He made a little noise of confusion
but she shushd him before sliding up next to him and just holding on. As
they drifted off she knew that those were not just mercs, those were family
and the Commander -- that was his father.
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