Many bandages later, Regina and I are sitting in the food court, watching Brian’s unconscious form. The doc’s run out to her car to get something to carry him on, and we’re here to make sure he doesn’t disappear like the fallen killer at the end of a horror movie. Or dissolve the floor into a pit so deep that we can’t get to him, I suppose, which is probably the more likely scenario.
Fortunately, once the drugs knocked Brian out, the nanos also went dormant. It makes sense, since they’re powered by directed high emotion, but for all I know he could be having high-emotion dreams right now. I mean, I disintegrated my blankets in my sleep, so it can happen! I guess being drugged isn’t the same as normal sleep, though. Whatever the case, he’s not steadily sinking into the floor, so I’ll take it.
“I just wish there were something we could do for him,” Regina says wistfully.
“There is! We’re doing it.”
“No, but I mean — he’s hurting, and all we’re doing is hurting him more. For his own good, and I get that, but we just chased him through a mall. He’s all cut up and bruised and might have broken bones for all we know, and I just feel so bad for him.”
I gesture at the lump on Regina’s head. “You didn’t come out of this unscathed, either. We did what we had to do. He’ll be all right.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Regina sighs.
We sit in silence for a minute. Then she asks, “How’s your cheek?”
“Well,” I say, “it’s got a big hole in it. So that’s not great.”
“Yeah, but like, how’s it feel? Sorry, it’s gross. But I’m curious.”
“You ever bite the inside of your cheek, and get a big lump? It’s like that, but in reverse. I keep wanting to poke it with my tongue, but every time I do, it’s like someone’s stabbing me with an ice pick. Every nerve there is on high alert.
“Plus now that it’s bandaged up on the outside, it’s got a constant slow leak into my mouth, and every swallow tastes like blood.”
“Well, you asked. Anyway, what option do I have? Spitting the blood out?”
Regina screws up her face and pretends to gag. “Enough! I’m sorry I asked.”
The clack of footsteps in the empty halls announces Doc Simmons’s return. She comes into view with a pair of aluminum poles tucked under her arm, a thick swath of canvas hanging from them.
“Come help me load Brian onto the stretcher,” she calls.
“Can do!” I hop down from the table where I was sitting, but suddenly the light in the room dims and I can barely see the next table in front of me. “Whoa.”
“Dan, are you all right?” The room’s bright again. Regina’s next to me, and has her hands on my shoulders. Also, I’m kneeling. When did that happen?
“Yeah, I’m fine. What’s up?” I try to stand up, but my legs are heavy and don’t want to move. I get one foot flat on the floor, plant both hands on that knee and lever myself to a standing position.
“I don’t know! You stumbled or something, and then you kind of sank to the floor.”
“He’s lost a lot of blood,” the doc calls over her shoulder. “He probably stood up too fast. Regina, would you please come help me load Brian onto the stretcher, then?”
“No, lemme get this,” I say. “If he starts dispensing nanos again, I’m the only one that’s not a death sentence for. I’ll go slow.”
With Regina spotting me, I get Brian rolled onto the stretcher without incident. When I reach down to pick up one end of the poles, though, Regina puts two fingers on my chest and shakes her head.
“I’m fine! I can carry him. More easily than you can, I bet.”
“And what happens when you pass out again, and drop him and jar him awake?”
“I don’t think drugs work like that,” I mutter, but I can see I’m not going to win this argument, so I step aside. “Doc, what can I do?”
“There’s a space blanket in a small plastic pouch in my bag. Cover him up, and tuck it in so it doesn’t blow away while we walk,” she says, hoisting the front end of the stretcher.
I do so, then walk carefully alongside, ready to step in if either of them need my help. They make it to the doc’s car without incident, though, whereas I notice the lights dimming twice more on the walk there. I’m able to keep going without falling over these times, but Regina’s right; I definitely shouldn’t be carrying anything more than myself right now, if even that.
We bundle Brian into the back, and Regina asks, “Now what?”
“Now I take him to the hospital,” says Simmons, “and figure out what drug cocktail to put him on to modulate the effects of the nanos. Fluoxetine seems like a good start, and we’ll figure out where to go from there.”
“What’s fluoxetine?” Regina asks nervously.
“Prozac,” says Doc Simmons. “Should have a mild sedative effect to calm him down and an anti-depressant to make things not look so bad. We know that he was doing well enough before Dan actively came looking for him, so if we keep Dan away and calm him down even a little, he should be fine. I wouldn’t want to send him into a crowded marketplace or anything, but I think I can get him back to a point where he can wear clothes and touch furniture without disintegrating it.”
“So you don’t want me to come with you, I take it?” I ask.
Simmons laughs. “It’s not often I say this to someone who looks like you do right now, Dan, but no, please stay away from the hospital. There’s not much we could do for you right now, anyway. Since your skin wasn’t cut, it was dissolved, it can’t be stitched back up in any reasonable way. You’ll probably need to see a plastic surgeon at some point, especially for the hole in your cheek. In the mean time, keep gauze on the wounds, get some food and rest and you’ll be all right.”
“All right, Doc. Take care of him.”
“I will,” she promises, and drives off. I fish out my keys as we watch her go.
“Okay. We need to go to the police station and see if Peterson’s found anything,” I tell Regina.
“What about food and rest?”
“I can get those in a little bit. Right now, I — whoa.” The world greys out again, and I brace myself against the side of the car.
Regina raises a skeptical eyebrow. “Yeah, I think I’m going to drive.”
“Good idea,” I say, handing her the keys.
In the car, Regina sees me wincing as I climb in and says, “Lean your seat back. You’ll be more comfortable that way.”
I follow her advice as we pull out of the parking lot of the abandoned mall. Apparently I am much more comfortable that way, as the next thing I know the car is stopped and we’re somewhere else.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” I mumble, struggling to a sitting position.
“I’m not sure you did,” Regina says lightly, but I can hear tension in her voice. “I think you may have just passed out.”
“Hey, we’re not at the police station!” I say accusatorily, having recognized my house.
“Dan, you need to recover. We’re going inside, you’re going to eat, and then you’re going to sleep.”
“But Brian –”
“Is being taken care of. I will contact Sam and see if he’s found anything yet. You are going inside to lie down before you fall down.”
I grumble, but given that I’m having trouble even undoing my seat belt, I have to admit that she might have a point. I don’t have to admit it out loud, though.
Somehow, the brief nap has made things worse. Getting out of the car is a symphony of agony. Regina attempts to help, but even leaning on her hurts several of the open wounds that litter my arms and chest.
Eventually, though, I make it inside and down the half-flight of stairs to the basement, where I carefully lower myself onto the couch. Regina disappears back upstairs to cook a second breakfast and I attempt to put my feet up, only to discover that one is much heavier than the other. I still have my one remaining shoe on.
I fumble with the laces for a couple of minutes, but my fingers are limp and uncooperative. Finally, disgusted with the entire process, I slap my palm flat on my shoe and watch the entire thing dissolve away, leaving my foot free and unencumbered. Brian had already disintegrated the other one anyway. Now they match, is all.
I wake up to Regina holding a plate of scrambled eggs and gently shaking me. “Dan? Eat this before you sleep.”
“Haute cuisine?” I ask, attempting a smile. The agonizing pain in my cheek puts a stop to that immediately, but Regina smiles for me.
“Nothing but the finest in bachelor dining from this restaurant,” she says.
Have you ever tried to eat using only one side of your mouth, because you’re trying to avoid getting masticated food in the open wound on the other side? I don’t recommend it. The eggs are precisely what I need, though, and despite my challenging eating style I polish the plate off in minutes.
“I’m sorry to be a bad host, especially after you cooked for me,” I tell Regina, “but I’m about to pass out.”
“Food and rest! It’s literally what the doctor ordered. I’ll let you know if I hear from Sam. Do you want to go to your bed?”
“Nope,” I say. “Couch is fine. I’m here, I’m comfortable, I’m out.”
“Okay. Let me know if I can get you anything,” Regina says.
“An address for Dr. A? He’s got a lot to answer for.”
“I’ll get right on that.”