“I hear you been giving it away with both hands, as the Good Book says you should do,” Preacher says, walking up the parking lot slowly, hands wide, “but of course some of them guys down at the co-generation plant are goin’ crazy trying to figure it out.”
“Had to put it somewhere,” Dance says, trying not to let his canopy tremble with exhaustion. H wants to leave it to Preacher. He wants to pitch forward on his face and sleep too. But he needs to guard, translate, explain what he’s done. He waves at the man on the ground. “He helped me do this. Couldn’t– couldn’t manage by myself. Too much of it.”
“Ours not to question the blessings of the Lord!” Preacher’s white teeth show in a grin. He looks down at the unconscious man still tied in the duct tape. “I guess he really wanted a good hard rest for awhile.”
“He was in great pain.”
“Oh yeah. We’ll check on it, me and Doctor Alex. You know, we’re gonna need you on hand in case he wakes up. Just keeping an eye on him until we’ve got him assessed and properly sedated, right?”
Dance sighs. “Yes. He’s got some crazy cocktail in him.”
“Doctor will have to guess how soon that comes out of his system. We’ll get a sample, get somebody to run it down to the lab, get some analysis on it tomorrow.”
“I can taste him, maybe help. We have to sniff pills Doctor has, smell what’s in them, to compare.”
“Are you sure you want to-”
“Yes!” Dance says fiercely, “My brother!”
“And thou shalt be his keeper. We used one gurney for the poor lost soul– I think we need one for you as well, my friend.”
“I can walk…” Dance says, and then realizes that he cannot in fact move a muscle.
“Uh huh, brother, you ain’t been home in there for a bit, have you? Give y’self a moment,” Preacher says, and grins.
“No rush,” Drin says. “Let’s get him some of that water, huh?”
He hears Grace’s soft voice, asking, ordering, and receiving mumbled male answers. ‘Toine assures her it should be safe to start the generator again. Her pen is scratching out notes. She sounds so assured and authoritative, such a change since the days of the Storm.
The lights go back on in the building, with a distant thunk of circuit breakers. The energy fields around him have ramped down so smoothly he hadn’t noticed, but he feels their lack as if a solid support has been removed. Drin is next to him, gripping his shoulders, saying something to Emma about the shape of Dance’s canopy.
Preacher kneels beside the guy in the duct tape on the ground. Dance is amused to see that he’s got those big scissors from Emma’s purse in his hand. “I want to cut that tape off him so the doctor can get a better look at him.” Turns Hyphen on his side, adjusts his head in textbook first aid style. The man’s eyes flutter a moment, and he sighs, and fades back to sleep again.
“Have you got restraints?” Emma says, purse swinging.
“The gurney does, Miss Emma.” Preacher works deftly opening the wrappings of silver tape and the fabric it adhered to, like a shell. The unconscious man will not lay back, cannot be uncurled; Preacher moves him more comfortably onto his side. The truck lights show a green and black and purple knot bulging out of the heavy upper slopes of Hyphen’s back, as big as a fist, with the skin split in small cracks and little runnels of crusted blood stained into his shirt.
“This is his problem,” Dance tries to explain. “His pin…”
“We will see what can be done for your brother,” Preacher tells him, and the gurney is trundling away down the cracked asphalt, surrounded by wary, solemn men.
“I need to go with them–” Dance says, and makes a face at the canopy still inflated around his head and shoulders. He’s never getting in the clinic door like that.
“Speed drain,” Emma says.
“Very speed please, I want to be there.”
“Of course, love, where else would you be?” Her hands are warm and settling. Dance brushes tired tears away like a petulant child. “Let’s unfold it all the way first, fold it up right. Here, folks, if you want to help, hold the tip out there–”
Once the canopy is pleated back down with the help of many hands, Emma walks along slowly with him.
He catches Tiny’s scent, and the big guy opens the door to the clinic for him, bowing. That means Dance has to crack his eyes open, since the zoomorph speaks visually. This is not a limitation that Doctor Alexander must deal with, however.
“I am not doing surgical intervention on a spinal infection with no tools and no general anesthesia, no skilled anesthetist and no idea even what kind of biology I’m working on!”
“You have Dance’s medical records,” Drin says patiently, one hand bracing Dance’s shoulder.
“Strangely, I also have no trust in assuming that Dance and this patient are that much identical as twins or clones or some kind of crappy lab-built anomalies. No thank you!” the good doctor says.
The other men are watching as if it’s a pingpong match, but Emma sighs. It’s a very matriarchal, cut-the-bullshit sort of sigh. “Obviously something triggered Hyphen’s system to kick his naga pin out. I took out the fragments of Dance’s– his skin hadn’t begun developing yet, it was just regular skin, no slide coat armoring. It’d be interesting to know when Hyphen’s pin started moving, get a clue what knocked it loose.”
Dance settles one haunch tiredly onto the edge of a counter, sagging in place. “He is in very great pain, and we all are in some danger while his back looks like that. The power box, it will overload again.”
“Emma, are you thinking it’s like these notes you wrote on Dance’s pin?” Doctor Alexander says fiercely, flapping a sheaf of papers bound into a file.
“Probably very close,” Emma agrees. Her voice is as cool and relaxed and distant as Drin gets, when his older self surfaces. “So maybe I can talk you through visualizing it, or draw you some quick diagrams, whichever will be quicker for you to get going on surgery. Yes, I had some schematics pop up in my head when we removed Dance’s fragmented pin. But those plans were for some later, tamer version, not quite the same shape they put into these Black Ops Naga guys. The bits we took out of Dance’s back were so broken up it never mattered. I suspect the pin’s shape was circular maybe to anchor it, not just releasing inhibitory materials from the inside of the pin. But it was merely wedged into the cartilage between vertebrae. I think it never encircled anything. Maybe it was originally tethered to something, I couldn’t tell. The pin certainly wasn’t latched around any nerves or bones at that point.”
Dance shivers. The memory of his partners cutting fragments out of his skin is a little blurred now, thankfully.
Doctor Alexander nods, pulls out paper, hands her a pen jerkily. “Draw it out for me, then I can decide better on this. Do you have any idea what kind of anesthesia might keep him quiet?”
“I believe Preacher using yoga-style calm is your best bet, maybe with a topical to numb the surface and the upper muscle tissue,” Emma says absently, frowning as her hand scribbles frantically. “None of us know if Dance could generate a sedative for him that wouldn’t knock out Dance himself right alongside Seung.”
“It was hurting me, of course,” Dance offers. “But this… is bruises all inside, and I can smell the infection. It is going to kill him if we don’t get it all out, I think. So his pain now is not what you should worry about.”
Emma draws in a deep breath. “No. We need to worry about how dangerous he is.”
Dance shrugs again. If he held out his open hands, they could watch him shake.