Philip Spool’s eyes drifted down. More white, but wrinkled. Bedding. White walls, white shades, white sheets, a vague antiseptic odor. A hospital? Yes. A hospital, proven by this fellow wearing a white coat with NeuroCorp insignia, identifying him as Doctor Signus Rao. His straight gray hair hung like a sock in need of peroxide. Usually, a few gray hairs gave a doctor some credibility. This man just looked tired.
“Nice to see you’re coming to, Mr. Spool. Hold still, please.” The doctor held a gizmo up to Philip’s eye and filled his retina with blinding white light, then listened to his heart and lungs and inspected a clipboard hanging from the bed.
“I don’t know why I’m here, so I’m assuming a lacuna?”
Doctor Rao laid a hand on his shoulder, probably attempting comfort. “Yes. The procedure went smoothly, no complications. You should be out and about soon.”
Philip smiled and nodded through the lie, having been through the procedure once before. He’d be worse for wear, all right. NeuroCorp always pretended “not knowing why” was insignificant. But the “why” was very significant. Something bad happened during his last mission, and maybe it was his fault. Maybe he’d screwed up. How could they not understand questions would plague him for months? Though he wouldn’t ask. Asking for the story behind a lacuna was poor form. So his mood would swing like a drunken pendulum while odd dreams and paranoia tormented him. He knew the drill.
“Last time, I became a bit depressed. If that happens—”
“Very common. We’ll medicate, of course. Let us know about mood changes and any residuals—dreams, flashbacks, etcetera. Should be minimal if you stay off your chip until instructed otherwise. Next few days in post-op, just relax, meditate. We’ll keep you mildly sedated. And after release, you’re scheduled for follow up, so don’t worry. You won’t navigate recovery on your own.” The doctor slipped his scope into his pocket and retrieved his notebook from the bedside table.
“Thanks. Would you mind opening the blinds as you leave?”
“Not much of a view.” But the doctor complied. And at least the view wasn’t white. It included a small slice of blue sky and a portion of a climate-control field’s silver halo, unexpected beauty rising from the ashes.
Ashes? No, that’s dust, black and thick and everywhere. He was elsewhere, below, in the dark. Something wailed in agony. Sparkles appeared down and to the left, then washed across his retina. The world shrank to a pin-prick, then out.
A week later, he was back at the apartment, unpacking. Or rather, trying to unpack.
“Those are clothes, not explosives.” Gervai’s lanky frame sprawled across the green, over-sized chair Philip normally used for reading. The man was gorgeous, but he’d better keep his feet off the upholstery.
“You could be helping.”
“I did help. I picked you up from the hospital. Happy to help more, if you want.” He winked at Philip.
Honestly, hitting on an invalid. “It’s just I’m afraid of scent.”
“You do reek sometimes, after a mission.”
Philip wadded up a sock and tossed them at Gervais. It landed in his lap. He picked it up between thumb and middle finger, gave it a look of mock horror, and flung it aside.
“It’s not smell, per se, you dope. Specific scents can be a memory time bomb. One wrong nose full, and I’ll collapse, seizing. I had seizures in the hospital, and I’m hoping to avoid more.”
Gervais shuddered with theatric flair. “No foaming at the mouth, please. I don’t do foam.”
Unbelievable. His so-called friend had the empathy of a tapeworm. So surprising that he’d visited the hospital and offered to escort him home. None of his other friends made an appearance. Not that he could blame them, given how moody he’d been this past year. Disgusted with—well—with everything, Philip dumped the pile of clothes onto the floor. “Intake should’ve washed these for me.”
Gervai stood and gave Philip a little bow. “Allow me, my Lord.” He snatched the laundry basket off the floor, crossed the room, shooed Philip away and began filling the basket with the dirty clothes.
“I didn’t mean—”
“Just sit.” Gervai pointed to the green chair. “I don’t need to witness a dirty underpants seizure, foam or no foam. Relax, but find your laundry card before you get too comfortable.”
“Thanks.” Philip opened the side table drawer. Gervai knew full well the card was kept here. And he’d probably been bartering access to laundry for—better not to know. Hopefully, the card still held value. “Detergent’s in the box by the door. If any’s left.”
“And I thought they’d sucked all the memories out of your head.” He shot Philip a mischievous smile. “Should I wash the pack as well?”
“Would you mind? Just dump whatever’s not water-safe on the couch.”
Gervai glided out the door. Philip wiped down the unwashables—keys, an ID card, his cup and utensils—with an excessively scented cleaner provided after the last lacuna. Pretty slap-dash post-op care this time around. Last procedure, intake had laundered his clothes, provided this cleaning fluid, and had provided transportation. Maybe NeuroCorp was sending him a message of disapproval. Course, maybe they figured he was less of a risk this time, having, according to his chart, “sailed” through that first procedure.
This time, he wasn’t sailing; he was adrift.
He flopped into the green chair. Shadows flitted at the edges of his vision. If he closed his eyes, would pre-seizure sparkles dance across the dark of his lids? He sucked on his tongue, thick and rough as a yam on one side thanks to damage inflicted during the last seizure.
Damaged and deserted accurately described what remained of Philip Spool. He followed a trail of worries on the theory that worry involved the future. And by avoiding the past, he could dance through the minefield of hazy seizure, triggering memories that surrounded his lacuna.
Philip wallowed until the door flung open, and Gervais barged in singing a popular song while he danced with the empty laundry basket. A noisy, pilfering, and shallow as a hasty grave nitwit who provoked him at every opportunity.
A distraction he needed. Badly.