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       John Gone, p.27

           Michael Kayatta

  Chapter 21

  John woke abruptly on a flat, uncomfortable bed. Beneath his head, John felt a flat, uncomfortable pillow. He opened his eyes and noticed a thin clear tube ferrying liquid to and through a needle stuck by tape to the inside of his forearm. He looked left and saw a white CRT monitor graphically displaying his vitality. He looked down and saw his right hand, red and black, taped and splinted. It rested inside a blue cloth sling strapped around his neck. He couldn’t move it.

  His bed was enclosed by four, light blue curtains that hung from horizontal poles, each helping to privatize his small space in what was presumably a hospital ward. He turned onto his side and searched for anything marked with lettering, trying to place a language that might help reveal his location. Finding nothing, he laid back flat onto the bed. He coughed as his head dropped.

  “John?” Kala’s voice buzzed from his watch.

  “Kala?” John asked groggily, slowly lifting his left arm up to his chest.

  “I can’t believe it,” Kala said, enthused. “Still alive.”

  “Yeah,” John replied. “One hand down, though. And one mom. And many, many others.”

  “But we won, John!” Kala replied. “We won! It’s over now.”

  “It’s not over,” John said. “I have no idea where I am. And that thing with the knife?”

  “I increased the Diaspora’s power collection,” Kala explained. “Think about what happened to Virgil, but with more energy and a secondary conductor.”

  “Diaspora?” John asked.

  “Yes,” Kala replied more quietly. “That’s the true name of it. The watch, I mean.”

  John looked at the hands beneath Kala’s hologram. It was 8:45 P.M. “Why did I jump when I wasn’t supposed to?”

  “Too much energy? Something about Mouse’s internal circuitry?” Kala sighed. “I don’t honestly know. Man always learns to harness something before understanding the true nature of it. It’s no different for quantum biology. That’s something the company never grasped.”

  “But ... ”

  Kala’s hologram shrugged in reply.

  “Well, you’re a lot of help today,” John said.

  “Even a man such as I has his limitations,” Kala answered.

  “We need to figure out where we are.”

  “Oh, don’t worry about that, I know--”

  A melodic voice interrupted him from behind the curtain. “John?” the voice called. Kala fizzled his hologram instantaneously.

  The curtain in front of John’s bed pulled open from the left and an older woman stood on the other side. Her hair was bobbed and her clothes seemed to be from the 1950s. John wondered for a moment if he’d travelled through time and if this woman was going to ask him about his Calvin Cline underwear.

  “Thank goodness you’re awake! I was so worried,” the woman said, walking briskly to the side of his bed. “I brought you here the moment I found you. That hand ... ” She looked down at his arm, resting in the sling.

  “Thank you,” John said. “I’m sorry, do we know each other?”

  The lady smiled. “Dorothy,” she said. “We never officially met; I can understand why you might not remember. I just have a thing for faces. Mary is always saying, ‘Dorothy, you have a thing for faces!’” She laughed.

  “Where do you know me from?” John asked.

  “America Offline. I use the switchboard in the search department,” she answered sweetly.

  “Right,” John said, remembering. “Wait! Does that mean we’re on Longboard?”

  “Of course, silly! Where else would we be? I found you in the bathroom at the office passed out and,” she looked to her left and right before whispering “bleeding” like a dirty word. “This is one of The Four. It was the closest hospital to the warehouse, so when I panicked, I just brought you here.”

  There were six hospitals on the small island of Longboard Key, and four of them were exclusive to veterans.

  “They weren’t very happy letting you in, but since it seemed like such an emergency ... ” Dorothy explained.

  “That’s fine, I mean, great, actually. I’m just happy to be here,” John said, slowly sitting up.

  “Honey,” Dorothy said, sitting on the side of his bed, “what happened to you? Was it that awful motorbike that Virgil had you on? I heard he had you on an awful motorbike.”

  “Yes,” John said immediately, jumping on the lie. “It was a bad accident with a car. A hit and run. I’m sure they were from the mainland.”

  “I’m sure,” Dorothy repeated, nodding in agreement. “Where’s Mom?” she asked. “Can I call her?”

  John almost said “no,” lying to cover his situation, but then remembered that telling her “no” would actually be truth. John lost his excitement for being home.

  “No,” he said. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine now. Thank you so much. I have to go.” John leaned forward to dismount the bed.

  “You can’t go now, sweetie,” she said, placing a halting hand on his shoulder. “They’re going to need to get your information, insurance, etcetera. They’ve also told me that you’re going need emergency reconstructive surgery. Without it, you’d likely never be able to use that hand again. You’re lucky I found you when I did. Surgery is scheduled for a few hours from now; that’s the fastest they can fly in a specialist.

  “The doctor also told me that an officer would be needed once you woke to take your statement. I guess they get a little worried when someone finds an unconscious minor with such ... damage.” She smiled. “Now, you just sit back and I’ll get the doctor.”

  “Perfect,” John said, smiling sweetly. “I’ll wait here.”

  As soon as Dorothy disappeared behind the curtain, John eased himself up from the bed and stood to his feet.

  “Not to be the one constantly highlighting bad news, but you do realize you can’t remain here for this surgery, correct?” Kala asked softly.

  “I know.”

  John looked to the IV leading into his arm, attaching him to a nearby drip-bag. Since the needle was sticking into his left arm, he had no hand with which to remove it. He leaned his face close to the inside of his forearm and clamped onto the IV’s tubing with his teeth. Slowly, and not without a little pain, John dislodged the needle from his vein.

  He ducked beneath one of the blue curtains surrounding him and found himself in a large room with multiple beds. Some were covered with curtains but most were open, leaving their patients exposed to the room and each other. As John made his way toward the exit, one of them yelled out to him.

  “Nurse! Nurse!” the patient called.

  A second patient that John couldn’t see yelled back at the first man’s cry.

  “I’ve been waiting longer!” he yelled. “Nurse! I’m first!”

  “I’m not a nurse,” John argued back hopelessly.

  “Nurse! Nurse!” they both yelled. The repetitive calls of the two men soon prompted two more to the chant. Whether the cacophony grew from old-fashioned competitive spirit or simply the need to register petty complaints and requests, John couldn’t be sure, but soon the entire ward became flooded by the sound of fifty old men shouting for his attention.

  “Nurse!” they all cried over one another. “Nurse! Here! I’m first!”

  The volume of this kafuffle soon caused a small army of actual nurses to hustle in through the large double doors at the north end of the room, ready to address the wide-spread and ambiguous calls of the ward’s patients. John spied Dorothy and a short police officer holding a clipboard amongst them, attempting to make their way through the mayhem to find the small blue-curtained box that they assumed still held a helpless teen with only one working hand.

  John quietly continued his trek to the room’s back exit and slipped through. The rest of John’s escape, two empty hallways and a lobby, was much easier than he’d anticipated. As he exited through the main doors of the hospital, he smiled.

  “I’m so used to the Advocates
chasing me that I forgot how easy it is to get away from normal people,” he said down to his watch.

  “Especially when those people are a doting old lady and an apathetic policeman,” Kala replied.

  “So, what now?” John asked.

  “I assume you want to see the girl one and inform her that you’re still breathing?” Kala said.

  “Yeah, but how do I get there?”

  “You’re the master of escape John, not me,” Kala said wryly. “As evidenced by each of our current situations.”

  “We both know how this day ends,” John answered back. “We’ll see if you’re still saying that to me tomorrow morning.”

  “Point taken,” Kala replied.

  Kala’s visage reappeared on top of the watch and met John’s eyes. “It’s the right decision, John,” he said.

  “I know.”

  “But I am sorry, all the same.”

  John thought for a moment, then asked a question he hadn’t thought to ask before. “What’s your first name?”

  “It’s Felix,” the doctor answered.

  “Can I call you that?” John asked.

  “If you like.”

  “We’re walking,” John said. “It might take awhile, but I’m not going home for my mom’s car, don’t have money for a cab, and have no idea how to steal a car.”

  “It’s up to you,” Felix said. “We have time.”

  John started walking down the hospital sidewalk in the direction of the bridge that would take him back to the mainland. The way to Ronika’s apartment was simple, but long by foot.

  He was feeling strange, evenly split between despair for his mother and the elation of his narrow escape from the prison. Just a bit longer, he thought. Just let the happy stay a bit longer. You’ll have years to grieve, and soon, the privacy. He forced a smile.

  “Felix,” John said, kicking his left foot against the rough concrete of the sidewalk’s top.


  “Nothing. I was just saying the name out loud. I always wanted to know Dr. Claw’s first name.” John laughed.

  “I don’t understand.”

  “Inspector Gadget,” he answered. “I brought it up to you when we first met.”

  “I have no idea who that is,” Felix answered.

  “Just a cartoon show from after your time,” John said, seeing if he could avoid the next five cracks in the sidewalk while he walked.

  “Well, that’s a depressing way to say it.”

  “So, what’s your story, really?”

  “I don’t want to go into it.”

  “Who’s Karen?”

  “None of your business.”

  “Is she your girlfriend?”


  “Are you going to see her when you get out?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “What are you going to do when you get out?”

  Felix paused before answering. “I’m going to find the men responsible for all of this, and I am going to ruin them in every way that men can be ruined.”

  “How are you going to do that?” John asked.

  Felix remained silent. John waited for a boxy blue car to snail past before crossing the road to the other side of the street. While he walked, he could see past the tops of two short houses all the way to the dim lights of the mainland behind them. John wondered if one of those lights was Ronika’s apartment.

  Thinking of her reminded him of the way she must be feeling at home while he was happily ambling down the pavement. He imagined the situation reversed, and how he would feel if he was the one thinking she was dead or captured. He felt the pain of losing her in his gut, her pain from losing him. She was alone in that apartment, and oddly, he suddenly wished he could teleport somewhere. He raised his pace to a brisk jog and continued toward her with newfound purpose.

  John pounded his fist across Ronika’s front door, banging and yelling for her, anxious to tell her that everything was alright, at least, that it would be for the next few hours. There was no answer. He pressed his ear against the wood of the door and listened for sound. Nothing. He’d seen the scooter in the lot not a minute prior. She had to be home.

  Why isn’t she answering?

  Worried, John ran around to the backside of Ronika’s apartment, catching his jeans in a square-trimmed bush along the way. Clumsily shaking his pant leg free of the bramble, he ran up to a low-mounted window in the wall and cupped his eyes against its glass, looking past it into her bedroom. The heavy exhalations from his nose caused two quick circles of fog to spread across the glass, obscuring his vision. He quickly wiped them away with the bandages on his damaged arm and peered around the inside of the room. He saw no one inside.

  John looked left, right, and forward again in a panic. Without much thought, he lifted his left arm, turned the Diaspora’s face toward the glass, and struck through, breaking the window open. Thin shards of glass cascaded beyond its frame. A sudden scream came from the inside, just below the window.

  A moment later, John watched a girl’s face appear where the window’s glass had been. Her eyes were wide and fearful. Her cheeks were wet and as red as the hair circling her face. It was Ronika, in shock, and wearing no ears but her own. She stared stiffly at John.

  “You scared me,” she whimpered without blinking.

  “I’m sorry; you weren’t coming to the door, and I didn’t see you past the window,” he answered.

  “I’m not talking about the window,” she said, shooting her arms through the sharp-edged hole toward John. She curled her fingers around the back of his neck and pulled his head to her shoulder. She rested the side of her head on top of his and squeezed him close against her body. John lifted his undamaged arm and rested it across her back between her shoulders. She cried.

  “It’s alright,” he said calmly. “Everything is fine now.” He rubbed his hand lightly across her back.

  “I thought you were--”

  “I’m not,” he answered.

  “Come inside,” she sniffled.

  Ronika released him, and John circled back to the front door of the apartment. Ronika was already standing there on her welcome mat by the time he arrived, somehow having found the time to don her fox ears before meeting him. She spied his damaged arm immediately and swallowed a gasp.

  “I know. It looks worse than--” John said, approaching her.

  “Does it hurt?” she asked.

  “No,” John lied.

  Ronika slowly lifted his arm and inspected it. “Does it work?”

  “Not anymore.”

  “I could make you something for this,” she said.

  “Like what?”

  “I don’t know,” she said absently, measuring his hand with her eyes, “some sort of apparatus, maybe a robotic glove to put over it.”

  John laughed. “You just want to control my hand like Mouse.”

  She couldn’t stop the laugh that came. “I promise I’ll be good,” she promised in an innocent tone. She wiped the last tears from her cheeks before turning from him and stepping inside. “It’s going to take a couple of days at least,” she said.

  John lifted his left hand to her arm and stopped her. She turned back around to him. “I just have tonight,” he said. “Maybe three or four hours. I have to go.”

  “I know,” she said, breaking his grasp and walking back into the apartment.

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