The hospital was a sea of chaos and panic of the outbreak, a new weird strain of the flu that was killing low-class Delta's and baseline relatives. It took me a while just to get someone to tell me where Sarah even was. Finally I found out she was the Orthopedic wing.
Upon hearing she was in the Orthopedic area I knew it was serious, likely some kind of major trauma, possibly a head injury or spinal damage. I nodded to the nurse, and managed a simple "Thank you." After a moments hesitation, before hurrying off in that direction, the bouquet of flowers I'd purchased from the hospital gift shop clutched under one arm.
As I reached the fifth floor and stepped off the elevator. I looked around, spotting Ellen right away, but it seemed like she was done for the night. She was zonked right out in the waiting room.
I didn't recognize anyone else around, not until I spotted a woman I hadn't forgotten. It had been several years, but she still looked the same. Sure, her hair was up, and she was wearing glasses and a white lab coat, but I recognized her.
She was at the nurses station, but her head turned and she smiled down the corridor at me, a warm, friendly smile. The woman who'd recognized me from the parking lot so many years ago. The mind reader.
I froze, realizing this Delta could be my undoing if she
learned of my actions in
With a nod I greeted the woman, trying to focus on the order of geological periods in my mind while still formulating a simple conversation. Tertiary, Pliocene, Miocene, Oligocene,- "Hi, do you know what room Sarah is in?" Eocene, Paleocene, Jurassic, Triassic, - The list rolled on as I focused on the names and time periods.
The woman turned and walked towards me. She was a little taller than average, like Sarah, leaner, wearing low heels and a skirt which reached her calves. It and the blouse were a light gray, professional without being imposing. She walked up, slowly enough for me to learn her name from the ID badge clipped to her lab coat: Jennifer Sanders, M.D." She raised a finger to her lips, eyes moving to Ellen. Then she smiled again, and jerked her head to indicate I should follow her.
Permian, Carboniferous, Devonian- "Right." I said quietly, adjusting my one piece sky blue thigh length dress and following a short distance behind. Silurian, Ordovician, Cambrian,- The list scrolled forward past my mental text window.
She lead me down the hall, and then into a room. She paused as I entered, and then shut the door softly. I noticed right away there were no patients in this room. But the woman still smiled, and stood non-threateningly. She spoke gently. "I don't read minds, Evie."
I paused, my list reaching it's end as I focused on her, my eyes widening in mild surprise, the words bull shit springing to mind. "Then how? Back at the parking lot years ago?" I focused on that moment, on her poised finger, of the sunlight reflecting off the mirror of a nearby convertible, the scent of berries only a bird could discern.
The woman paused a moment. "That's not really important." She stepped forward and offered her hand. "I'm Jennifer." I stared at the hand for a moment, hesitant, seeing for a brief second my own hands as wing talons, drenched in blood and tattered bits of a military uniform.
I blinked away the memory, reaching out to gasp the woman's hand, more firmly than I intended, nearly clinging to the chance for human contact. "It matters to me, a lot." I struggled to keep my voice from cracking, wanting more than anything to speak with Sarah, but also yearning for resolution to this unrequited mystery from so long ago.
Jennifer let me hold her hand, studying me, smiling, every inch of her non-threatening. "Sarah's three doors down in 516. You can peek in on her, but she's sleeping right now. She's been sleeping a lot these past few days. When you see her, try to realize it's not as bad as it looks. The bruising really makes it look worse, especially a few days after."
She stepped aside. "After you look in on her, perhaps you'd like to join me in the cafeteria? I'll buy you some lunch."
I nodded, still holding tightly to Jennifer's fingers, "Please, I need to know." I held the woman's gaze for the first time, my fear of her slowly dissipating, "Sure, lunch sounds wonderful." I forced myself to let go of her hand, my own suddenly feeling out of place without something to hold onto, I quickly reached up to fondle the Swahili necklace, tracing the delicate bead work.
Jennifer patted my shoulder with her other hand. "Go on. Look in on Sarah. I'll be downstairs. Ground floor, turn left when you leave the elevator." She exited quietly, leaving the door open.
I nodded once more, realizing any answers would come later from the telepath,
and at least seeking those answers would distract me from.. Other things. With
scarcely a pause I hurried to Sarah's room, hoping I would find my old friend
awake, inwardly terrified of what condition I would find her in, and worse what
Sarah was sleeping in a hospital bed. IV dripping into her arm, EKG still monitoring her heart. Her leg was elevated and held immobile, with a cast. Her right arm bandaged and in a sling, and her face sported two black eyes and numerous puffy bruises.
I paused, glancing about briefly before picking up Sarah's chart, quickly glancing for any description of her exact injuries, my morbid curiosity at what happened to my friend momentarily replacing my fear and desperation.
I struggled to keep a sense of detachment, not think of the broken, injured woman before me as the brave and indomitable companion I knew, push aside the protective vengeful fury I felt beneath the surface of my thoughts.
I concentrated on cold clinical facts, ignored the tears making the chart blurry, it was just the sting of all the antiseptic they use in these places, I told myself.
The chart was easy enough to discern, total knee replacement due to a combination of GSW and Calc. Defic. Broken arm and several ribs, exacerbated by the same calc defic. Presented with severe flu symptoms as well, the N4H9 strain - The Delta Flu. Fractured cheekbone.
The chart also said the patient was combative, uncooperative and prone to outbursts. A psych consult was ordered but she threw pudding in his face. Possible PTSD.
I nearly dropped the chart at reading the information, panicking at the idea of contracting the N4H9 strain myself, before remembering my own regenerative ability. Since expressing I couldn't recall having so much as a sniffle since, although if this targeted Deltas.. "I'm such a selfish bitch sometimes." I confessed quietly to Sarah.
"What happened to you girl?" I asked gently, wondering who had shot her, and why the knee? Likely a ricochet or training accident, but that wouldn't explain the rest, unless she fought back? "You poor dear, PTSD? I guess we have something else in common maybe?" I shrugged mentally, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable in the presence of my sleeping friend, uncertain of what to tell her should she awaken suddenly.
I looked about for someplace to stick the flowers, before deciding to lay them gently on Sarah's chest and step quietly out the door with a final backward glance.
Big mistake. The sight of Sarah laying immobile, covered in white sheets, with flowers on her chest dredged up the memory of the funeral of the young African girl Kiala, shrouded in white sheets with wilted African Violets on her body.
I gasped at the memory, pressing knuckles to my head to drive the image away, the pain of my nails digging into my palm and the growl of my empty stomach refocusing my mind on the present.
With a softly muttered curse at my own weakness under my breath I carefully closed the door to Sarah's room, following Jennifer's instructions to reach the cafeteria; taking extra care to tread quietly past Ellen.
When I reached the cafeteria, I saw Jennifer, already at the table in the furthest, most private corner, already with two meals. As I approached she slid both plates toward me, letting me choose between the salad and the burger with all fixings, still smiling softy, gently, and nothing about her betrayed which one she'd choose.
I gave Jennifer a warm, grateful smile, I couldn't remember the last time anyone had bought me dinner. With a quiet "Thanks," I smoothed out my dress under me, sitting down and claiming the plate with the hamburger as my own.
"I haven't had cooked meat in months!" I exclaimed contently, sinking my teeth into the burger, realizing after the fact it wasn't a sentence most people uttered.
Jennifer nodded and replied, "The first thing you should know is H4N9 is very contagious, but won't survive in the bodies of Deltas Classified as Two or higher. At any rate, Sarah received the anti virals before the general public, and isn't contagious."
"I'm glad she's on the mend." I managed to say around a mouthful of food, the seared meat a welcome change from the fresh kills I had become accustomed to during my Safari. I swallowed and continued "What happened to her? A break in at the place she did security?"
Jennifer shook her head. "Most of those injuries were sustained in the line of duty. But the knee was..." Jennifer paused. "You've been away, so you probably don't know how bad it's gotten since Sarah's dad died. Last Sunday, she snapped, and her friend shot her. She's seen too many movies and only wanted to take Sarah out of the fight."
I blinked, unsure what to make of the revelation, having already been considering enacting vengeance on my friends behalf, but now realizing it wasn't needed. "What made her snap? I know her father didn't die of natural causes, was she involved in his death somehow?"
I regretted my choice of words seconds after I uttered them, "I didn't mean to imply she deliberately-" Jennifer reached out and put her hand on mine. It was surprisingly cool. "Of course you didn't." I flinched at the touch, both yearning for contact with skin, rather than fur or feathers, but at he same time afraid of appearing desperate.
I sighed, not knowing how to correct myself in the presence of a stranger. "I just meant if she accidentally hurt him or-" I stopped myself again.
Jennifer was quiet a moment. "There's a lot I can't tell you. And a lot I can but probably shouldn't. And a lot you should hear from people besides me..." She paused, still with a hand on mine. "Evie... it's okay. You're going to be okay."
"Sorry, my time in
"I know. It gets better." She said soothingly.
I looked up at her, my meal momentarily forgotten. "Please, tell me how you knew me back then, how you seem to know so much about me- About me now." I finished after a moment of hesitation.
"It's not important, Evie, I promise. What matters is what I do with that knowledge." She picked up a cucumber slice from the salad and bit it. "I'd like to help you."
I sighed softly, struggling to make her understand. "I need to know before I can trust you, not specifics, just how. I know you're a Delta, but until I know how you know about me it's hard to feel comfortable with you knowing, or even knowing how much you know, and what exactly."
I searched for the words, a piece of me wanting to howl or roar in frustration. "I also want to know why you want to help me, I'm just a stranger, why does my well being matter?" I kept my voice calm, not wanting to sound accusatory or challenging.
"Animals are direct, deception isn't really in our nature, but humans, you always seem to have an angle." I blinked back tears, the offer of comfort and help seeming almost too good to be true.
"Evie... I don't like to talk about myself. But... if you think about it, you already know what you need to know. Maybe not everything you want to know. But everything you need to know."
I nodded, realizing any direct answers would require force, and hurting this woman was the last thing I wanted to do, at least in public. "Have it your way, if you know me like you seem to then you know I would handle betrayal poorly."
I tilted my head slightly adjusting my viewpoint of the woman mentally. I never could get answers from most of the animals I spent time with, and that never bothered me, so why should my time with this one be any different? Looking back on it, I'm nearly certain she used her abilities to influence a sudden trust in her, to bend me to her will, but at the time I only felt a sudden rush of kinship, and the feeling I could, and perhaps should, tell her everything.
"Can we go somewhere more private to talk? Away from this place." My gesture encompassed the hospital. "It reeks of death on a level I can just can't handle right now."
Jennifer nodded. "I have a room at the hotel a block up."
"Perfect, I'd offer to meet you there, but I took a cab here, I still haven't quite managed to learn how to drive." I admitted sheepishly, oddly embarrassed at admitting another of my shortcomings.
"It's only a block." She stood. "Let walk."
I nodded in agreement, resisting the urge to shift into something more suited to walking, firmly reminding myself I was in the company of a human, and I should accommodate her just like I did other creatures.
"And Sarah had to retake her driver's test." She offered an arm. "Twice."
"I've never even sat behind the wheel before." I confessed, smiling at the absurdity of an American not knowing how to drive. "I usually shift to get around, it just feels more natural."
Jennifer led me at a casual walk. It's was a crisp day outside and once I was away from the hospital, the world seemed a little less crazy. The hotel was a place families used when relatives were in hospital, so nothing fancy, but definitely not a fleabag, either.
Jennifer took the elevator to the 10th floor and lead me to a room. The Do Not Disturb sign was up, and Jennifer swiped her card and entered, but I hesitated at the doorway, feeling as if I was about to cross a mental threshold as much as a physical one.