NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Forty-Five

[urgent electronic beeping]

“Wuh…”

“What’s –“

“Uhh, where…?”

“They’re waking up! Page Doctor Tucker.”

[Crisp efficient sounds, clicks, rustles. The beeping stops.]

“There you go, there you go, it’s all right honey.”

“What happened?”

“They’re awake?”

“Can you talk to Bed One? Is Casey coming?”

“I’m okay, I think.”

“Can you tell me your name, dear?”

“Uhh, Kristen. Kristen Lewis.”

“That’s good!”

“Kristen? We’re back?”

“Hold on honey, can you tell me your name?”

“Steven Romero Diaz, are the others okay?”

“Bed three?”

“Hey honey, are you back with us?”

“Napping. Nice and warm.”

[Light laughter]

“Can you just tell me your name, hon? Then you can nap more.”

“Colin, you nut!”

“Hm, Colin something, Colin Pembly-Bartholemew Colson.”

“Pembly-Bartholemew?”

“He just made that up.”

“Oh, Doctor, here you are! They’re all awake!”

“I see! Have–“

“Whoa, yipes! How long were we, that is—“

“We’ll get to that. Give me your wrist now.”

Time passes. Eventually the three have been weighed, measured, poked at. IVs and catheters and other insults have been removed as gently as possible within the hospital context. Steve’s head has been imaged yet one more time.

“Still nothing in there, eh?” Kristen remarks, and he kisses her. The nurses tutt happily.

After a time, Doctor Zane-Tucker gently clears the room, and sits on a chair among the beds to which the patients have been returned. With their permission, she has her phone recording audio.

“We want to know everything,” Kristen says.

“So do I,” Doctor Zane-Tucker smiles, “but to start with: you have all been unconscious for just about ten weeks–“

“Less than three months?”

“Does that surprise you?”

“So much happened! We spent at least–“

“In the Alpha alone–“

“It was years!”

“One at a time, please! I expect you are all eager to know–“

“I don’t feel any bedsores; have our muscles atrophied?”

“You have been very well cared-for, of course, but also your muscles have maintained an… unusual degree of tone on their own. Every body is different. I would still caution you not to try any sudden movements. No standing until you’ve sat up, and so on. Someone from Physical Therapy will be seeing you later today or tomorrow.”

“What about Steve’s head thing?”

“We were successful in removing the foreign object, and the healing has–“

“Hey, Glomorominith took that out.”

“Oh, darn, I think we left it in the basement–“‘

“Of the old falling-apart house, right!”

“We didn’t really know we were leaving.”

“Do you three have some kind of common–“

Glances are exchanged among the young people.

“Common memories, I’m afraid so. Due to the virtuality? Or whatever?”

“I should probably be separating you, then.”

“Really? So we don’t have a chance to coordinate our stories? Like on cop shows?”

“It’s what I’d do, certainly.”

“But I’m injured, I need my emotional support friends.”

“Your head looks fine from here.” Kristen air-kisses in the direction of the bandaged head. Steve blushes.

But they let themselves be separated, for the moment. Beds are wheeled away.

“It doesn’t feel like a dream. Or at least it didn’t. Now my memory of it all is starting to sort of slide away, like dreams do, y’know.”

“How does your head feel?”

“Not bad, a little muzzy. The… wound has been healing okay?”

“Quite well. The soft matter was all stabilized, and we’re really good at rebuilding bone these days. There’s been no sign of infection, which is a worry in this kind of injury. The tests that were done, um, early on showed normal brain function. You’ll be having more tests tomorrow, but I think the odds are against anything concerning turning up at this point.”

“How long was the, um, artificial coma?”

“The medication was ramped down weeks ago, and you were entirely on your own that way. You just didn’t wake up!”

“Like Kris and Col.”

“Yes.”

“Was it, like, a malfunction in the virtuality caps?”

Doctor Zane-Tucker smiles.

“That’s not exactly my field.”

“Okay,” Steve says, “Oh, hey, do you have some paper and a pen? There’s some stuff I need to write down…”

Colin insisted on getting up and walking before his interview. Now he is sitting in Doctor Zane-Tucker’s private reception area. Comfortable but firm sofa, he notes to himself. Muted colors, soothing. The Doctor’s cellphone still recording.

“And you did attempt to come out of the virtuality, with the ‘ducking-out’ gesture?”

“Periodically, especially in the first few days and months. After a few subjective years, I think we all stopped trying.”

“I see,” she makes a note on her pad. “Can you estimate how much time seemed to have passed?”

“It’s not easy,” he says, “it’s all just memory. Like everything– I don’t know.”

“Things are becoming a bit uncertain?”

“Yeah, I don’t remember how we got to the Alpha. I don’t remember where Kristen got the magic pocketwatch or alethiometer  or portable orrery or whatever that–“

“Mrreow?”

“Oh, hello, cat! How is the cat business?”

“Ah, sorry,” the Doctor says, “get down, Tibbs!”

“Tibbs?”

“Yes, that’s his name. Is that… especially funny?”

“It’s rather a long story. But I guess that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”

Later, Kristen is still lying comfortably in the bed, feeling the present and remembering how everything felt in her memories. Had it all been a virtuality in some way? Are there effects there that she can use in her own worlds? She imagines making a world that feels as vast as the rainbow stripe across the universe of Alpha and Omega.

“I understand your public virtualities have been getting a lot of visitors over these weeks,” the Doctor says when they have been talking for a while.

“Oh, no, are we celebrities? I don’t want to be a celebrity. Not this way, anyway.”

“It will be somewhat unavoidable, I’m afraid; your names and situation did leak to the media despite our best efforts. But the celebrity cycle is short.”

“Small comforts,” Kristen smiles.

“You may find yourselves to be objects of medical interest, longer than public interest. Virtuality researchers will be bidding on your time.”

Kristen laughs. “I Spent Months In The Universal Virtual, by Kristen Lewis, soon to be a major motion picture.”

“Something like that.”

“Do you think that’s what it was, Doctor? That we somehow ended up in some huge AI hallucination?”

“I don’t know, Miss Lewis. That may be a question for the philosophers. I’m concerned only that you three are awake again, and healthy.”

“I appreciate that,” she says, “I really do.”

Fling Forty-Six

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