This week has been full of distractions for me, mostly really good ones, but I’ve not been able to write as much each day. Still, most of my plans for this weekend fell through so I was able to get up to 16,681 words by this point. Now includes super dogs and Carrhart overalls!
(If you want to start from the beginning, you can from here: http://blog.paulidin.com/?p=378)
At least this time, it didn’t feel like I was waking up in an enemy camp. It felt like I was waking up in an emergency room.
The feeling of fingers on my wrist is probably what initially roused me, but as I started regaining consciousness, I could hear a faint beeping and a carefully measured voice repeating something over and over. There were numerous smells that made me want to get up as well. The medicinal alcohol and rubbery smells weren’t too upsetting but the very strong presence of something metallic in the air got down into my mouth and made me think I was licking a manhole cover.
Don’t ask how I can make that comparison. College was weird. Just leave it.
I opened my eyes to ask that the coins be taken off my tongue and was startled to see a robot hovering over me. It took me aback enough that I forgot what I was going to say and just stared at it.
It was roughly the size and shape of a small trashcan: metal and cylindrical with a dome for its head. Unlike the robots I’d seen in movies and on television, it was not covered in a bunch of flashing lights and random circuit-board-inspired lines. It had almost no designs on its body at all, just a few panels around its midsection and an image of the Rod of Asclepius in a blue circle near the top of the side closest to me. The image did glow, though, so there was that concession to geeky coolness. But if it hadn’t had a robotic arm extended from one of its panels to point something that looked like a flashlight down at my chest, I might have thought it was just a hovering storage box. It didn’t even have an anthropomorphic face with designs added to evoke the impression of eyes and a mouth as happened so often in fictional works.
As I started at it, I realized that it was the source of the beeping (in time with my pulse, actually) and the softly droning voice.
It was saying, “Core temperature is 37.6°, respiration is 15 breaths per minute, pulse is 86 beats per minute, blood pressure is 122 over 74, intracranial pressure is 12 mmHg. Core temperature is 37.7°, respiration is 16 breaths per…”
I guessed it was measuring and reciting my vitals on a loop.
“Oh, good, you’re awake. Here, open your mouth.”
I turned my head from the flying trashcan to my right to look at the person who was still holding her fingers to my wrist. As I opened my mouth to ask why she was bothering to take my pulse, a plastic thing that felt a bit like a mouthguard was shoved into it.
I managed to say, “Why dlrgfrlrggl?”
A woman in a light blue lab coat used the back of her left wrist to rub her forehead through her bangs and then said, “Why your wrist? Handy is taking your carotid pulse and I’m just making sure there’s no circulation problem at the extremities. I guess you didn’t notice when I was taking your femoral pulse.”
She paused and giggled. “Well, part of you did but that’s perfectly normal and I’m a doctor.”
Sure enough, over her left breast was another of those blue circles containing the traditional symbol of medicine. Below the image was a little shimmering rectangle that changed from displaying random lines to displaying “Dr. Catterall” and then back to other random lines.
Looking in the doctor’s direction allowed me to see my surroundings and figure out where I was. This was still the same warehouse level where I’d been knocked out by the Master’s shove. I must have been lying on the floor just inside the warehouse door, with my head closest to the same wall through with the monster had invaded. I could tell because behind my physician I could see a clean-up crew dismembering and carting off parts of the thing from another dimension. Another group was hard at work installing something in the space where once had hung that painting.
And striding towards me from that mess was Clifton, himself. I could see Wren, hair a little out of place but otherwise just as composed as before, attempting to keep up behind him.
He came around me to my left and dropped to one knee. He laid one of his enormous hands on my shoulder and frowned down into my eyes.
“You’ve already done a fine job, Adam,” he said. “You were exactly right and once I got my arm around that monstrosity’s neck, it lost strength quickly. We managed to subdue it because of your suggestion. What gave you the idea?”
“Mrlrmph,” I replied.
Clifton raised his head to look across my body at Dr. Catterall and the floating thing the doctor had called “Handy” was in his way. Unperturbed, the old man reached out his left hand and gently moved Handy, still floating, towards my feet where it hovered in place.
“Healer, must that thing stay in his mouth?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Clifton,” she apologized, “but until it’s finished reading his exhalations to determine pulmonary damage, we really should leave the device in place.”
The thing in my mouth emitted a little tinkling melody like a wind chime in a breeze.
“And now it’s done,” said the doctor, reaching down to pull the plasticky device out from between my teeth. She dropped it into a little vertical opening sewn into her lab coat, at about the height where her belly button would be. As soon as the exhalation-analyzing-device disappeared into the hole, she held up her left sleeve where I could see what looked like a flexible computer screen was displaying various bits of information. It seemed to be affixed behind a transparent protective plastic covering, but responded to her finger gestures swiping across it quite readily.
As Dr. Catterall’s attention turned to her sleeve, Clifton turned his face back down toward me and asked, “Now, what were you saying?”
“It was just a guess,” I replied. “I couldn’t see anything there but a big rabbit, so I couldn’t tell exactly what all of you were doing. But Wren told me that it was draining your Wishbook’s energy and dissolving the ground, so I knew you wanted to kill it or get rid of it immediately. Nothing you were doing seemed to be causing any significant damage to its exterior so I figured cutting it in some fashion wouldn’t help. But then I saw what looked like a hangman’s noose in the painting that it had busted through.
“I figured that if I were going to put up a warning about a dangerous thing and I wasn’t sure what sort of languages the people in danger could read, I’d put up a picture showing either the danger or how to deal with it.
“Since none of you were being strangled by the thing’s tentacles, I figured the strangling implied by the noose must have been the way to deal with it.”
Wren, who was standing near my feet watching our conversation, interjected, “The idiot’s right!” It’s like we were best friends already.
She continued, “I was trying to look up the directions for how to deal with the emergency when he came up the answer on his own. It wasn’t until after he passed out that I found the catalog entry that showed the hangman’s noose painting and the explanation about strangling the creatures that could emerge from behind it.”
“Hey, lazybones,” said Dr. Catterall. She waved her hand to get my attention and I turned my head back to her, still on my right. She started unbuttoning her shirt as she spoke.
“You can get up in just a second. Handy’s scans show nothing broken, ruptured, or bleeding inside. Your heart and lungs are fine. You did have a cracked skull and potential for concussion, but the skull was easy to fix. And that was a nice big ol’ bloody crack, too. Heh, heh. But the gullibility potion seems to kept your gray matter insulated well enough that I don’t find any signs of concussion.
“You’re going to hurt a lot, though. Like, a lot. That’s why you should definitely check out my breasts right now while Handy gives you a shot for the pain.”
With that, she opened up her button-down shirt and revealed that she was wearing a pink and black lacy brassiere that contained–
“Wait, what? Ow!”
I looked down in time to see a needle on a robotic arm retracting back into the base of the floating medical assistant. It had hurt a little bit, but the pain was already disappearing by the time I turned back to see if I could examine the contents of that brassiere further. I was sad to see that Dr. Catterall’s distractions had already been hidden from view and she was buttoning back up. She gave me a wink.
“Come see me before you finish your day and I’ll give you some supplements to keep your inflammation and pain down for the near future. Probably no more show, though.”
She coughed. “Probably.”
She got up and walked toward the site of the fight, calling out, “Come on, Hamdy” as she went. The floating robot went off behind her.
I turned back to Clifton, who was grinning at what had happened, and extended a hand to him.
“Could you help me up, please?”
With no obvious effort, he lifted me up by the hand as he stood up himself. I brushed myself off a bit as I asked, “Was she calling that robot thing Handy or Hamdy?”
“She was saying Hamdy,” Clifton replied. “It’s actually spelled H-A-M-D and stands for Helper Automaton: Medical Diagnostic. We have quite a few helper automatons around the Wishbook so you’ll hear quite a few variations on that moniker.”
“Hah, cute,” I replied. “I hope there’s one around here called HAL so I can…”
Something else had just sunk in that the doctor had said.
I spun to face Clifton and narrowed my eyes at him. “Did she say gullibility potion? Did you drug me?”
If anything, his grin got larger and he replied, “Don’t you think it’s strange that nothing of what has happened has bothered you at all? Yes, the fruity drink I gave you in my den was a concoction that the good healer created to help Wishbook neophytes to more readily accept what they encounter. It doesn’t work on everyone, so it’s designed to keep changing flavors. If the drinker doesn’t mention anything about it, I know that they’ve fallen under the formula’s spell.”
I believed it. Which, I supposed, was the point. I tried to build up some indignation but Clifton moved to my side and grasped me with his right arm in a gesture of camaraderie. Holding me in that position, he walked us toward the site of the monster fight.
“Come now!” he boomed. (It hurt my ears) “I used to try to bring in new people without lowering their incredulity factors, but it would take days for them to stop gibbering at the things they saw. Gibbering is bad for business! If you’d been in shock, that creature could have done much more damage before we subdued it. Look at what it managed to do in such a short time as it was!”
Just past the place in the wall where the monster had broken through, Dr. Catterall was kneeling by one of the men I’d seen in Gwendolyn’s wolf pack, applying a salve of some sort to a nasty gash in his chest. The rest of the pack members seemed either to be sitting nearby or standing around watching the doctor work. Gwendolyn saw us and began walking over.
The Master had released me once we were standing in front of the torn painting on the wall, but I was still facing in that direction. So I wasn’t sure what it was that emitted the loud growling sound that came from behind me as Gwendolyn approached. The master sighed and shook his head from side to side resignedly as if this had happened before.
“Osbad, cut that out!” came a gruff voice I hadn’t heard before. The growling subsided.
For her part, Gwendolyn hadn’t flinched or even slowed a bit as she’d approached. Once she stood in front of the Master, she began giving a quiet report about the status of her team.
Since nobody else seemed concerned about the growling, I slowly turned around to discover its source. A polar bear was sitting behind me.
No, that couldn’t be right. It was too small for a polar bear. Still, it was an enormous white furry animal sitting on its haunches on the ground behind me and my mind was having problems reconciling what it was. I blinked a few times as it turned its head from facing Gwendolyn toward me.
“That’s a dog!” I said aloud in surprise.
“Hmph. Well, I can tell you’re a bright one,” said a short man beside the mountain of canine. No, wait again–he was about my height, but the dog’s enormity was messing with my sense of proportions.
Now that I’d managed the seemingly easy task of recognizing the huge dog, I could assess it better. Sitting down, it was easily five feet tall from the ground to the tip of its ears. It was all white with a curly spitz-like tail and a wolf-like face. Its ears were each probably the size of my open hand. Now that it wasn’t growling, it was sitting motionless and quietly with its mouth closed. It was so white that if it hadn’t had dark eyes and a black nose, I might have mistaken it for a pile of fresh fallen snow.
“Look, I’ve seen dogs,” I said to the gruff-spoken man. “I like dogs. But that can’t be a dog! I could ride it!”
“Wouldn’t recommend it,” said Gruffy McGruffster. “She’d either complain by biting you in half or go along with it and break you when she ran.”
He was my height but I couldn’t tell much of anything else about the shape of his body because of all the layers he was wearing. Thick and dirty brown work boots covered his feet, and a padded brown overall covered most of the rest of him. I could see he was wearing a blue and black flannel shirt under the overall, and I thought I could see the collar of some thermal underwear peeking out from the neck of that. He wore a gray and bright orange parka on top of all that, again heavily padded and with numerous pockets just like his overalls.
His head had three textures: hat, hair, and hard. The hat on his head was a red and black flannel trucker hat that had never heard of irony and wouldn’t have been interested if it had. Most of the rest of his head was covered in bushy brown and gray hair, including his beard and eyebrows. The little bit of skin I could see between all the hair looked like it had weathered some beatings, just as his eyes did. I couldn’t really see his mouth at all, but I could see an opening in the lower half of his face move a little bit when he talked.
“That sounds like a fair warning,” I replied to him. “My name is Adam. I… think I just started working here.”
I held out my hand and he looked at it with a disgust you’d normally associate with finding a surprise pile of dog crap on your carpet. I withdrew my hand awkwardly while he responded.
“I’m Osgood. Head of Cleanup for Wishbook. That’s Osbad. She’s second in command of Cleanup.”
“Hah, I see what you did there. What kind of dog is she?”
“She’s a White Shepherd.”
“Is she a mutant White Shepherd? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shepherd dog more than maybe three feet tall. She’s huge!”
Without the slightest change in expression, Osbad began growling at me. I did not wet myself, but the idea was discussed in my limbic system quite passionately.
“Hmph,” chuckled Osgood. I was pretty sure it was a chuckle. “She’s sensitive about her weight.”
Look, I don’t usually censor my own stupid comments and certainly not for animals but Osbad had a good point. Several. In her mouth.
“I meant, she’s a very tall and muscular dog. Like a god in dog form. That’s what I meant.”
The growling stopped. Various body parts of mine, that I hadn’t even realized had tensed up, relaxed slightly. I didn’t really need to find out why Osbad was larger than the average dog, so I decided to stop while I was ahead. And still had a head. I turned back around to Gwendolyn’s conversation with Clifton.
“So Vincent is on bed-rest for a week but the rest of my pack is able to keep doing patrols.”
“Gwendolyn,” said Clifton in a very paternal tone, ” I appreciate your dedication but I would feel better if your Alpha Pack would stand down, yourself included, and you’d allow Beta Pack to take over. At least let them take patrol for the night, my dear.”
“Sir, is that an order?” she asked, without a hint of expression showing on her beautifully savage face. I could actually see a couple of her wounds still seeping blood as she stood there.
The Master sighed and ran a hand through his thick head of hair before he responded, “Let me just say that I’d be very disappointed if you chose to overexert yourself instead of taking some time to recover.”
Now for the first time, I did see Gwendolyn flinch. She flinched at the word disappointed.
“I’ll inform my team and notify Beta Pack, sir.”
As she began to turn away, Clifton placed a hand on her shoulder. That appeared to be his favorite gesture of regard.
“If you simply must keep working, Gwendolyn, I’d like you to take Adam to see examples of wishes gone bad. Act as his guide and his guard.”
I hadn’t noticed any change in her stance before, but now I could see her straighten up in pride so she must have been slouching a bit.
Without turning back, she snapped off a brisk, “Yes, Sir. I’ll be happy to do that,” and then walked quickly toward her team, still under Dr. Catterall’s supervision.
I looked to the Master and he winked at me. “I think she likes you. You had better go with her.”
I felt a little confused. Maybe the gullibility potion was wearing off. It had to have been pretty late evening at this point and I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch.
“Am I spending the night here, sir? Could I get something to eat?”
“The lady wolf has all your answers for tonight, Adam,” he said, turning toward the exit. “I will see you tomorrow morning and we’ll do an orientation session.”
He had such long legs that it only took a few strides for him to hit the door and disappear. I turned back to see that the Alpha Pack, as Gwendolyn had labeled them, was dispersing and their leader was looking at me as if I were keeping her waiting. I hurried to join her, wondering how much more peculiarity I could fit into this day.