022 – Frailty

Zee jerked awake at a sharp rapping on her apartment door. She glanced at the low light time display; 4 am. “What?” she called, barely managing to make her tone sound cheerful. She unbuckled the harnesses that held her vertically to her sleeping pad.

“Get out here.” Zee recognized the gruff voice of Boss. The name Boss did not appear on Zee’s lease agreement, but the woman refused to let anyone call her anything else.

Zee gritted her teeth. “What’s wrong?” Boss responded with impatient, tinny tapping. “One moment, please,” Zee said. 4 am may have been too early for makeup and a pantsuit, but Zee emerged from her tiny, tube-like apartment moments later wearing both. “What’s wrong?” she repeated.

Boss stood with her arms crossed over a baggy Ballistica team t-shirt and sweat pants, her silver blond hair glinted lightly in the dimmed lights of the Standard Maintenance hangar. “I’m tired of getting up and changing his medicines. I’m putting you in charge of it,” she said.

“I’m not a nurse,” Zee said.

“Neither am I,” said Boss with an impatient shrug. “As far as my money is concerned, you’re the live-in help. You do as I say, and I say change his medicines.” She turned. “There’re instructions next to his bed.” She yawned and slumped back to her apartments a level below the hangar.

Zee stood there for a moment, mentally reviewing her lease agreement, but she could find no support for a refusal to give Benjamin Havoc his medications and a return to sleep. Her lease required her to protect the health of her clients if the opportunity arose.

Since no one could see, she mirrored Boss’s slump and trudged up the stairs to Ben’s loft, yawning. Most of the loft consisted of storage. Walls and towers of boxes and locked containers created a maze near the stairs, but the maze led to a Spartan bedroom that overlooked the hangar. Wooden crates packed with ammunition lined the raw edge where the floor ended, rusted metal shelves neatly stacked with tools and parts lined the right wall of the room.

Besides a mattress on the floor, a floor lamp and tall, rusted brown toolbox constituted the only other pieces of furniture and stood on the left wall. Zee turned on the light. Ben lay on the mattress, as unconscious as he had been since they left Helioset three days ago. A sparse forest of IV bags on metal roller stands surrounded the mattress.

He’d met them at the shuttle, bloodied and beaten, after Baker had informed them they needed to leave, asked her if she was okay, and after she said yes, collapsed in a heap. Apparently he’d dosed a partner defending Cyntha, got himself arrested, beaten, and then overreached with his Somatic instinct. At least there had been about half as much puking on the way back to Standard Maintenance as there was on the way there.

He currently looked little better, though his face was healing. He lay beneath a sheet, his arms uncovered so low dose soma, saline, nutrients, and blood could be delivered intravenously. Needles protruded from his wrists and narrow tubes snaked out from under the sheets.  Zee shook her head and knelt next to his mattress. She found the instructions and extra med packs as the Boss had indicated and carefully replaced each one. Then she cleaned his face, gently wiping away the worn liquid Hex with a towel. She reapplied the foaming liquid over his split lips and the cut on his jaw.

Zee sat back, watching his chest rise and fall, searching for any signs of discomfort, but Ben slept peacefully. He looked young, younger even than his nineteen years. Human’s always looked young when they slept, the lines of care erased from their faces, hardness eroded by sleep. Frailty revealed. Ben looked like a child.

She regarded his long eyelashes with curiosity as they brushed against the sharp curve of his cheeks and wondered what he had been like as a child. She leaned closer, trying to imagine it. She could not. She had never been a child. She was born a thirty-year-old, and she would die one. Analogs didn’t possess frailty; they possessed expend-ability.

Zee froze, her face only inches from his. She straightened deliberately and arranged the med packs so they would be easier to replace in a few hours. She stood, turned off the light, and walked back through the maze of boxes.

Read the next chapter.

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