|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2010-02-13 12:58:00
In The Mouth Of The Wolf: Part 7
The previous stories in this series (my Keptverse) began with The Games (six parts) and continued with The Network (one part), The Players (seven parts), The Gambler (seven parts), The Cripple (one part), The Pieces (seven parts), and End-Game (5 parts).
There are parts one two, three, four, and five, and six of "In the Mouth of the Wolf", the sixth and final section of this story. Parts 8 and 9 to follow.
The story may be regarded as fanfic set in poisontaster's Keptverse. There is a species of cast list here.
The ER's silence made Richard wonder briefly if he had gone deaf, even though he could still hear the sounds of functioning medical equipment, the hospital's air-conditioning: but no voices. There were people sitting on the floor, lying on the floor, propped up against the wall, one older man lying on a folded jacket with his head in a younger patient's lap. There were a handful of nurses, and hospital slaves, and some scared-looking kids in white coats who were probably medical students. The whole room was silent as if an explosion had made everyone mute instead of deaf. Richard was gripping the handles of the gurney Sam was lying on, or he thought he would have turned round and gone out again. Greg went over to the reception counter, his gait half-halt, half-shuffle: he leaned on it and said something to the free man behind it, his head ducked.
“The soldiers took them,” the man said: his voice was loud, shaking. “They took all of them. We don't have any doctors here.” The man was wearing a nurse's badge, a senior nurse: “They'd have taken me, if they knew I had Bri-bri-bridget – ” His voice rose on the last syllable and Greg's submissively bent head lifted.
He interrupted, without apology. “They took all the doctors?” He was staring at the nurse, and Richard swallowed, watching them both – watching the nurse jerk his head back in surprise, looking round: there were no guards. There were no collars. Greg turned away from him, an abrupt, angry shake of the head, looking round the chaotic room, quieter now than it was: the staff, slaves and free, were staring at Greg. Some of them were faces Richard knew: none of them were looking at him.
“Idiots,” Greg said, and just like that, Richard knew him. Not from Chicago: from years – decades – ago. Doctor Gregory House had been both famous as a diagnostician and notorious for his eccentricities before he disappeared into Commerce: and Richard understood, leaning over Sam on the gurney, not looking at Doctor House, how he himself had vanished. Even colleagues who might have thought him innocent, wouldn't have thought twice about a slave. He remembered Doctor House's voice, raised in harsh contempt or blistering sarcasm: he could hear it now. “How many casualties here? How many coming in? How many medical staff do you have left? Stop crying and tell me!”
Richard bent his head. Sam's face was grey. He was breathing short and fast. Chuck had not thought twice about having an inconvenient slave bought and assigned to the cages: never mind that the slave had used to be a colleague and a friend. Richard must have seen Doctor Wilson's bodyslave hundreds of times, the years Wilson had worked at Chicago Memorial, and had never thought about him at all.
To overthrow the government. Because slavery is an abomination.
Chuck must have been taken with the rest. Richard put his hand on the side of Sam's face. He could feel the skip and flutter of a shocky pulse, and Sam's flesh felt cold: he did not react to Richard's touch. A burn victim could die from shock. Sam could die. He was standing in a hospital emergency room, and Sam could die.
There was a woman standing by the door to one of the treatment rooms. She was wearing the work-clothes that a slave who had been trained as a nurse would be given for use on-shift. She was looking round, at the patients, not at Greg. Richard caught her eye as she looked at him, and steered the gurney over to her. When he was close enough for a slave's whisper to be clear, she bent over the gurney, looking at Sam, but her head turned to listen to Richard.
"I need your help,” Richard said in a low voice. He outlined Sam's injuries, and what he needed, and she nodded, her hand below the gurney flicking at the treatment room, in there, and her head lifting so that he could see her eyes flicker at the man behind the reception desk, then towards the room. Whether she meant if he lets us or while he won't notice, Richard didn't care: he turned the gurney again, angling it to the door, and pushed.
“Where do you think you're going?”
The young medical student in the white coat spoke abruptly, as if he were glad to find something he could be decisive about, and when they didn't answer, he clouted Richard first, not hard, and his hand swung to clout the woman.
Richard put his arm up, fast and hard, and stopped the blow. The sound and impact of the medical student's fist against his arm were shockingly different from the blow that had landed against the side of his head.The medical student stared at him – no older than the dorm supervisor, taller than Richard, his hand less calloused than Sam's – and his eyes were wide and dark in his face, as if he could not believe what had happened. Richard looked at the woman. “Everything's changed,” he said. “I can take your chip out. Help me.”
“Who the hell do you think you are?” The medical student's voice was a high stammer of rage and disbelief.
“Fifty percent of all the doctors this hospital's got,” Greg House said.
“Richard Kimble,” the woman said, in a sudden stumbling outburst. “You're Doctor Kimble. But you're dead!”
“Yes,” Richard said. “Get him into that room and help me save his life. I was a surgeon. I can take your chip out.”
The woman drew a breath. “Everyone,” she said. “Everyone's chip.”
“Yes,” Richard said again. “Just get me a flat surface and a strong light and enough scalpels and I'll do it. Everyone.” He couldn't remember how many slaves Chicago Memorial owned, but he wasn't licenced to practice in Illinois anyway.
Sam's hands were damaged. Richard could not get them out of his mind. The calloused, pale skin stopped like the edge of nightmare into blackened, weeping burns.
Sam was going to live: at least, if any of them were going to live. He was still lying on the gurney, a pillow found somewhere propping up his head, a bag of clear blood-heat solution feeding lost liquid back into his body. He hadn't spoken, though his eyes were open, most of the time, whenever Richard looked at him: and every five patients or so, when Richard went to check him out, his pulse and his temperature were normal, not shocky.
Outside the examination room, from what people said as they were waiting, the injured were still coming in, and no one had seen the doctors who had been taken away. Most of the people whose chip he was taking out just took their shirt off, propped themselves on the edge of the examination table, and took themselves off after the small wound had been swiftly dressed: Richard could do it all in less than five minutes now. He didn't look up as people came in: he didn't know Greg was next in line until he hitched himself up on to the table, and rolled over, moving his lame leg with his hands, to lie flat on his face.
“I need you to help me with the patients,” Greg said, as Richard bent over him.
Richard probed along the spine below the shoulderblades: the scar was faint, but most processing centres seemed to put the chip in the same place, just where a slave would have maximum difficulty reaching it with their own hands.
“There'd have been a riot if I'd tried to stop you doing this,” Greg said. “But you've been at it for five hours. I think you've done about a quarter of the slaves the hospital used to own. You can stop now.”
The fastest way was to spread the skin tight with the fingers of one hand, cut where the lump was visible, and flick the chip free with the edge of the scalpel. It probably wasn't the most painless method, but no one complained. The cut was small.
“You should get some sleep. Then I need you in ER. Not here.”
Disinfect the wound: a gauze pad, an adhesive dressing. Done.
“I'm not licensed to practice medicine,” Richard said, in response to what Greg was saying. “That should heal in a day or so. Have someone check it out if it feels hot.”
“We're still doctors,” Greg said. He sat up, the same awkward way he'd lain down, and got up from the table, putting a hand out to steady himself on it. “Slaves don't lose their medical licence when they're sold, did you know? Not any more. AMA fought that but they lost, a few years ago.”
There was someone else waiting. She held out a hospital-issue walking stick to Greg, who took it without comment. She had already stripped to her waist, and, like the others before her, propped herself on the edge of the table. The scar where her chip had been put in wasn't old – she had been free only a handful of years ago.
“I can't stop,” Richard told Greg. He regloved himself and bent to probe her scar.
“You're going to have to sleep sometime,” Greg said. He sounded thoughtful.
“I can work eight hours and sleep eight hours,” Richard said. He had the skin stretched over her chip. “I can do this.” A fresh scalpel: the bucket at his feet was nearly full.
“We have CNN out there,” Greg said. “The President made an announcement: all slaves are free. Commerce is in rebellion. You don't need to rush.”
The scalpel hit the chip square-on: Richard moved it a fraction, like an extension of his hand, got it under the chip, and flicked the thing free of her flesh. The woman made a small sound: not pain but satisfaction. Richard was pressing an adhesive dressing to the wound before it occurred to him that Greg was still there, waiting for an answer.
“You came in here to have your chip out,” Richard said. “No rush?”
“It was the only way I could get you to talk to me,” Greg said, but he turned round and went out. As the door opened someone else came in. Richard said to the woman “That should heal in a couple of days. If it starts to feel hot, have someone check it out.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” She picked up the bucket. “I'll take these to the autoclave.”
“Doctor Kimble,” someone was saying, into his face, “are you all right?”
Richard stepped back, away from the table, realising he had a scalpel in his hand. He let it fall to the floor, and spread his hands, taking another step back away from the blade, spreading his arms a little more: he was almost backed against the wall, in this small room. He swallowed, keeping his eyes fixed on the man's face, trying to see in it some signal what he should do next.
“He hasn't slept in twenty-four hours,” Sam said. His voice was like a blow out of nowhere: Richard's head rocked back, sideways, staring at Sam. “You need to let him sleep.”
to part 8