Hollowed Memories, chapter 2, part 1

May 11, 2014

Chapter 2:  Underway

He had the sensation of awakening in a surgical recovery room.  Those rooms tended to smell either like vomit or disinfectant, and Yarec actually preferred the former.  If he could smell that the place had been washed all over with a strong cleanser, there would be a nagging suggestion at the back of Yarec’s mind that somebody had recently died there.  Fortunately, all he caught here was an understated whiff of digestive problems.

He was oddly squeamish about hospital deaths.  Dying in battle was not noble, but it was naturally, in a way.  The world was a vast and cruel place, and there was no quarter for those partisans who lined up to oppose its movements.  Everyone knew that being out where real action was happening was dangerous.  Yet a medical clinic was supposed to be safe.  People saw doctors to be cured, and usually they were; that made it all the more unnerving when they died instead, even in their place of refuge.

Yarec had woken up more than once to find himself strapped to a narrow bed, but there were no restraints holding him this time.  He flexed the fingers of his deft hands and admired the skin of his palms, clean of any scars or discolorations.  His arms were muscular, and their length matched his height, which was a little below average.  Curly black hairs ran down his naked chest and disappeared under the white plastisilk sheet that maintained his modesty.  Yarec tried to sit up and kick the sheet away, but he felt dizzy as soon as he had propped himself up on his elbow, so he allowed himself to sink back down into the featureless foam of the mattress.  Now his mouth felt tight and cottony, and he ran his tongue back and forth, back and forth, back and forth over his teeth, trying to get used to the odd feel of them.  Well, he reminded himself, this is now the body of Yarec ban Silfien.

When he felt capable of standing up, Yarec located a pair of slippers with microtextured soles to prevent slipping.  He found himself quite steady on his feet, although the extra traction was still welcome; every so often, the floor pitched slightly, and he was still a bit slow to react.  When he moved his legs they stung a little.  Lactic acid in the tissues was inevitable.  It built up—the product of a certain amount of anaerobic metabolism—while a cloned body sat in storage, and it took a bit of moderate activity to flush it out.

He padded out into the hallway to the call station, where a junior practitioner was tapping her stylus against a folded-up computing lamina.  She unfolded the two-dimensional device as Yarec approached.  Running a fingertip along the quartering creases, they melted away.  The lamina automatically smoothed itself out and adjusted its texture for greater rigidity, quickly transmuting into a hard display panel.  The practitioner held it up in her left hand while she scribbled the beginning of the patient’s name with the stylus, so it could call up his attending surgeon’s case notes.

“How are you feeling this morning?” she asked brightly.  Her voice was pleasantly disarming, as she looked the patient over—observing his gait and posture, taking note of his bloodshot eyes.  This was an elite medical facility, despite its odd location, and the professional staff were extremely sharp.  The junior practitioner checked the time with a wink and entered a new annotation in Yarec’s records.

“I feel pretty good,” Yarec answered.  He leaned his forearms against the call station desk and tilted his head from side to side, stretching out his neck.  “My shoulders are sore, but the legs feel good.”  She made a noncommittal sound and entered the information.

“Do you know… how was my last mission?” Yarec asked.  The insignia on the woman’s sleeve indicated sufficient intelligence clearance to discuss such things, and he was eager to find out, informally, how the results of his most recent infiltration had been received.

“I got the impression that the commandant was pleased, but I didn’t pick up too many details.  You were in pretty rotten shape when they brought you down here.”  Yarec nodded, reflecting gratefully on the excellent work the staff had done.  “They ordered up a standard body for you, and we had to get right to work on the consciousness transfer.”

She glanced at Yarec’s chart one more time, before folding the sheet back up.  With a bit of finger pressure at its edges, the computer relaxed to a consistency like flimsy paper.  As she rested the device in a metal basket on her desk, she said, “You really shouldn’t walk around too much.  Why don’t you have a seat over there?” and she motioned toward a heavily padded chair.

The patient accepted her suggestion and sank down into the yielding, plastisilk-coated cushions.  With its gently angled back and foam-stuffed arms, the chair felt much more comfortable than the strictly functional hospital bed.  Yarec dozed off and had a confused dream, full of distorted faces painted in lurid colors.

He woke after only a few minutes, shivering violently.  “I feel so cold,” Yarec stammered, trying to keep his new teeth from knocking.  The practitioner at the desk spoke a few words of command jargon into her communicator unit, then crossed to Yarec’s side.  She covered him with a programmable blanket and adjusted its controls for maximum thickness.  Then she read off his vital signs from the digital display on the easy chair, which had been dutifully collecting the information transmitted by the multiple sensors affixed to Yarec’s body.  She was soon joined by the member of the nursing staff she had summoned.  He moved quickly to the patient’s side, although it was easily readable in his long, measured strides that there was no emergency, no reason for undue concern.  The pair adroitly raised Yarec to his feet and assisted him back to his room.  Then they laid him out on his bed and gave him a sip of restorative serum.

I’ve never felt this kind of side effect so badly, Yarec mused as he was relaxing back into slumber.  The shakes diminished, with the heavy blanket sealing in his natural warmth.  His aching neck began to relax, and that was the last sensation he remembered for many hours.

The ship was pitching more when he woke again that afternoon.  Oddly, the uneven footing seemed to make it easier for him to get up and walk around again.  He’d seen other patients wake up in the vessel’s hospital ward and immediately start vomiting, but today the motion of the North Pacific seemed to be soothing.  Basing operations at sea had advantages and drawbacks.  Supplies were regularly an issue, and there were many other logistical concerns.  However, security was the paramount problem, and a vessel at sea was a mobile and, in many ways, impregnable fortress.

Yarec pulled himself up again, taking things more slowly on this second attempt.  He let his legs dangle off the bed, and the blood flowed more uniformly through his extremities.  After about an hour, a member of the medical staff checked him over and pronounced him fit to take a minor excursion.  On board the ship, he held the breveted rank of captain in the States United Armed Forces.  That entitled him to various minor perks and gave him mostly free run of the vessel.  There were not many places to go, but he had some old haunts he wanted some time to explore with his new limbs.

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