Title: Redstone Chapter 16, Part 1.
Tamara had always had good hearing. Even for a regular person, her ears would have been good, far better than her eyes, which had taken three surgeries to correct to their less-than-perfect state now. She had also had a great deal of experience in her youth at pretending to be asleep when she was in hospitals, mostly to avoid dealing with her father and the look she knew would be on his face when she woke up. She could even modulate her heart rate, which was a useful trick when she wanted to listen in on a conversation. Especially such a heated one.
“Absolutely outrageous.” She had heard that voice before—not often, but more than once.
The next person to speak spurred a much more immediate sense of recognition. “Keep your voice down.”
“It’s my infirmary, Mr. Gyllenny, and I’ll raise my voice however and whenever I choose to! What sort of idiot goes gallivanting about the universe with all of these disabilities? Honestly, a natural? You might as well plop a baby down in the middle of an ocean and expect them to know how to swim. Their terrible immune systems must make traveling with them an utter nightmare, not to mention their absolute inability to respond to more than the most basic of therapeutic techniques!” The doctor sounded like he was on the verge of despair. “I have too many idiots with major wounds being brought in to deal with something as ridiculous as an allergic reaction right now!”
“But she’s going to be all right?” Demarcos pressed. He sounded genuinely concerned. It was rather nice, actually.
“She’ll be fine. Regen couldn’t do anything for her but the proper antihistamine injection did the trick. She should wake up momentarily. I expect she’ll come up with all sorts of excuses to stay here,” he added derisively. “Naturals are fragile creatures. If you’re staying, then you keep her calm and under control. Any sign of hysterics and I’ll render her unconscious and have her delivered back to her room immediately.”
“Did they not teach you any sort of compassion in your medical training?”
Dr. Kleinman snorted. “You think compassion is what anyone in this hellhole deserves? They deserve to lose power and freeze to death, as far as I’m concerned. My job is to keep the people who end up here alive, not to coddle them, Mr. Gyllenny. If it bothers you so much, I suggest you avoid ending up a patient.”
“I’ll take it under advisement,” Demarcos said. Tamara heard the door swoosh open, and the doctor briefly cursing at some damn robot, these things are always malfunctioning before it closed again.
“Well,” she croaked, not quite feeling like opening her eyes yet. Her face still felt a little swollen, and her lips were numb. She could breathe without assistance, though. That was good. “He’s a fucking prince, huh?”
“Holy shit.” It came out more like a sigh than a curse, and when Tamara finally looked up she saw Demarcos staring down at her, a combination of relief and anger written all over his face. “What in the lowest ten was that?” he demanded. “You poisoned yourself?”
Tamara winced. “Keep your voice down.” She made as though it hurt her ears, but in actuality she wasn’t pleased that he was trying to give the game away while they were being surveilled. Not that she wasn’t going to do her best to get rid of this footage, but it didn’t pay to get sloppy. “And those were a new brand of crackers; I’d never tried them before.” Obviously.
“Right, right.” Demarcos subsided a little, sitting down on the edge of her bed. It didn’t automatically compensate for his weight like it should have—apparently the leveling system embedded in it had gone to hell and no one had bothered to fix it—and she rolled into the side of his hip. He felt warm even through her jumpsuit. “So what now, Carson?”
“Well, first…” She glanced around, then suddenly put two and two together. “Shit! Open the door!”
Demarcos frowned. “There’s a bot out there acing weird, are you sure you—”
“Open the door! I’m feeling…” She cast about for a reason that a casual observer would accept. “Severely claustrophobic! Open the door, now!” Demarcos rolled his eyes and obeyed, and the bot immediately rolled into the room.
“Close it,” Tamara hissed just as the robot swept her up into its arms and cradled her against its metallic chest. The green eyestrip glowed brightly as it rocked her back and forth and said, “There there. There there. There there.”
The door opened a moment later, and Dr. Kleinman bustled in angrily. “This thing is all wrong! It doesn’t respond to standard commands in a timely fashion. Put her down.” The bot paused in its rocking, and then gently laid Tamara back down on the bed.
“I’ll have this thing deactivated and torn apart,” he muttered. “And you’re awake. Good. Get back to your quarters, and—”
“I feel nauseous.” It was the first excuse she could come up with, but Tamara knew she needed to check her clothes, now, and she couldn’t afford to leave the infirmary to do it. “I can’t go yet.”
“You’re fine, and I have other people to tend to and need this space.”
There was more excuse coming, but Tamara had already heard enough. One of the most useful, and least appealing, parts of her training under Admiral Liang was building in a neuro-sensory feedback loop that would provoke illness. It wasn’t fun, but throwing up backed people off like nobody’s business. Shuffling her feet together, Tamara pressed the ball of her right foot hard into the instep of her left, while simultaneously squeezing the fleshy section of her right hand between thumb and forefinger.
The sudden rush of sickness made her double over, retching as the scant contents of her stomach hit the floor. At least her throat didn’t swell up, although from the look of disgust on the doctor’s face she wasn’t entirely sure he would have helped her if it had.
“It’ll pass,” she assured him, eyes watering and nose streaming. “I just need a few more minutes, I think.”
“Take an hour,” Dr. Kleinman muttered, and he turned and left without another word. ZeeBee didn’t follow him, just stood there placidly.
“What the hell?” Demarcos said quietly. “Are you okay?”
“I need to be in the bathroom.” She held out her arm like she just couldn’t make it all of five feet without his help. Wisely, he took it and escorted her over to the tiny toilet, where Tamara knew they only passively surveilled, in case of an emergency.
As soon as the door was closed, she turned her back to him. “Look for a disc on my clothes, something small, probably transparent,” she instructed as she pulled a fresh water line out of the wall and stuck it in her mouth. She swished viciously, and let the current carry the dirty water back into the piping, then swished again. “Fuck, that’s nasty.”
“You’re telling me.” Demarcos’ hands were a little tentative, but he swept his fingers methodically over her back and arms, working his way down her body. Tamara did her best not to blush as he lightened his touch over her rear, then started on her thighs. “Ah. Here.”
She turned and saw the delicate lens sitting on the end of his pinky finger. “Perfect. Now I just need access to a care portal.”
“Planning on writing up the record of your own illness?” he asked, doing his best not to sound as flustered as he looked.
“Not exactly. Look, you’ve been…very helpful, but it’s best you let me manage things from here. I promise to do my best,” she added when he looked reluctant. “I’m invested in getting Kyle out of here, I swear.”
“I shouldn’t believe you, but I don’t think I really have a choice.” His teeth were gritted as he said it.
“No, I guess not,” Tamara agreed. “Let’s get out of here.”
She was both surprised and incredibly relieved to see ZeeBee still in the room, apparently just finishing cleaning up her mess. The bot straightened and glowed at her. “Baby,” it said.
“Oh thank you, Wyl,” she murmured. She hadn’t been sure that Wyl would make it so ZeeBee would stay with her, but apparently the baby protocol he’d described was still in place.
“I will take good care of you.”
“What is going on here?” Demarcos asked.
“I know you will,” Tamara said, ignoring her human companion. “I need to access a care portal.”
“The closest is 2.4 meters away, in the main hall.”
“Is there anyone in the main hall right now?”
“Dr. Kleinman is approximately 4 meters away.”
Tamara whirled on Demarcos. “I need you to distract him. Just long enough for me to access the care portal and release the gas.” She was already removing her elaborate collar and folding it into the portable fumigant mask it doubled as. From a camera’s distance it would be hard to tell what she was doing, but she kept her hands low anyway.
“You’re releasing the gas on this place?”
“It’s the only way I can get access to the right office. Please,” she added when he looked like he wanted to fight about it.
“You do realize how many laws you’re breaking, right?”
“And you get that they could put you away here and you’d never see starlight again, for however long you managed to survive?”
Tamara shivered but held her ground. “Yes. I know.”
Demarcos sighed. “Then I guess I can’t scare you into changing your mind. Give me a minute to work on him.”
She reached out and put her hand on his arm. “Thank you.”
“Tell me that when you get out of this thing alive,” he replied, then opened the door and raised his voice. “Hey! Haven’t you heard of liability before? I’ve never seen so many violations of—” The door shut on his impending argument, and Tamara took a moment to shut her eyes and lean into ZeeBee, still feeling a little sick, and shaking with nerves.
A metal hand found her shoulder and patted. “There there. There there. There there.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. They stood in silence for another minute before she asked, “Is there anyone in the main hall now?”
“Good. Escort me to the care portal and then support me in front of it.” She made a show of stumbling a bit as she moved into the hall, walked a little ways and then sagged against the wall. ZeeBee trundled up right behind her and propped her up, and Tamara transferred the chip from her finger to the sensor of the care portal.
It was a clever design, just enough to bypass the routines that required passwords but not enough to treat her as anything other than an employee. Tamara had already researched and trained up on this particular care system, and so she knew just where to go to find the emergency security protocols. She might as well have been Dr. Kleinman herself, the way the chip hacked through the safeties and accepted her assurance that, yes, there was indeed a riot going on and yes, gassing was necessary. And oh yeah—suspend Redstone’s inter-zone filtration system for the duration of the active gassing.
The hall lights went from plain white to flashing red and orange. That was all the warning anyone got before the gas began to flow. Tamara brought her mask to her face and buried her head against ZeeBee’s chest, and prayed that the seal held.
“What’s happening?” Dr. Kleinman exclaimed as he ran out of his office, Demarcos hot on his heels. “What is this? I didn’t give orders for this!” He just barely made eye contact with Tamara before he wilted to the ground. Demarcos lasted a few seconds longer, but then he followed suit.
Two minutes later the lights went back to normal, but nothing else did. Tamara removed her mask and took a shaky breath, and was relieved not to collapse herself. So far, so good.
“There there.” ZeeBee patted her again, and Tamara laughed shakily. “There there. There there.”