Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 22

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

I woke up still laying on the big table. I was not uncomfortable in the least, as I was covered with a light blanket and my head rested on a soft pillow. My injured left leg didn’t hurt a bit. In fact, I couldn’t feel it from the knee down. As soon as I opened my eyes, a chime sounded and Sarah walked up to the table.

Sarah shined a small light in my eyes and asked me some nonsensical questions. She asked if I knew where I was and who she was. My mouth was mighty dry, but I managed to croak out answers that satisfied her. She handed me a cup of water with ice in it. As I sipped, she filled me in on what had been done while I was unconscious.

“While you were under, we did some microsurgery on your leg. The beam path made a perfect conduit for our micro instruments and miniature camera. The procedure was straight-forward, and we did not run into anything unexpected. We repaired the chip in your fibula with calcium putty that will harden into bone in about forty-eight hours.

“Repairing your deep peroneal nerve was a little more difficult, because about a half inch of it was vaporized by the particle beam. We were able to affect a splice between the two ends of the nerve, using a thick thread of your neurological stem cells. For the next seventy two hours, that thread will transform itself into clones of the nerve cells to which it is attached. When the conversion is complete, the nerve will be completely functional again.

“The bullet wound through your leg was surprisingly clean and infection free, so we applied a material called ‘dermaplast’ to the entrance and exit wounds. The dermaplast is also made from your stem cells, and will close the wound by cloning itself to your skin cells.”

I had to make her go back and clarify a bunch of the future medical gobbledygook, but Sarah patiently explained everything so all my questions were answered. The gist of her lecture was that I would be mostly off my feet for three days. After three days, I would be as good as new, no limp, no foot dragging, just a couple of small scars.

Another pair of cheerful friendly folks came into the room and loaded me onto one of the rolling beds. They whisked me from the mediscan room back to the room in which Doctor Mendez stuck me when I first arrived. This time, though, the two medical assistants rolled me right into the room without having to do anything special to open the door. Sarah, who had been walking with us, commented on that.

“There is no quarantine in place this time, Jeb, so you can come and go as you please. I know that’s not much consolation right now, given that you are bedridden, but three days from now, it will still be unlocked.”

The room had been changed since I was last in it. The sofa, chair and coffee table were gone, replaced by a medium sized bed with a small rolling table next to it. According to the glowing green numbers over the cooking stove, it was five in the afternoon when Sarah and the orderlies tucked me into the comfortable bed. One of the helpers filled a metal ewer with water and ice, set it on the small table next to the bed, and departed with the other orderly.

While the orderlies were fussing over me, Sarah had retreated into the tiny area that passed for a kitchen, and started removing things from the ice box. She put some containers into the instant stove thing-a-ma-bob, closed the glass door and pushed some buttons before she came over to where I was laying.

“I had someone make us some red beans with ham and rice. As soon as it’s warm, we’ll eat. I know you must be starving,” she said.

She knew me too well, because by then, my big intestines were eating my little ones. She fixed me a bowl of beans and rice and adjusted the table so it was over my lap. Then she adjusted the bed until I was sitting upright. As we were eating, I asked her if she had heard from Coleen about Sonja and the other women’s condition. She frowned and nodded.

“Some of those girls are severely damaged, both mentally and physically. It will take some time for them to deal with the emotional trauma. Right now, three of them are in hyperbolic sleep while their bodies heal. While they are in suspended animation, the nuero-psychiatric units are expunging the worst of the memories. Thank goodness, Sonja was only a captive for a day. She was abused, but not to the extent the other women were. I suspect she’ll be along to visit you shortly.”

After making her say that mouthful in words I could understand, I felt a wash of relief that Sonja was okay. I still cared deeply for her, even though we had polar-opposite views about the New Englanders. For that matter, I still cared for Coleen, even though I thought her spoiled, head-strong and willful.

Sarah’s prediction was proven correct, when Sonja, Helena and Coleen dropped in for a visit later that evening. I was surprised that except for itching terribly as the feeling returned, my wound bothered me none at all. As soon as Coleen arrived, she and Sarah changed the dressing on my leg. I think they did that mostly so Coleen could check my wound herself. I was having my problems dealing with Coleen’s personality, but I did not question for a second her ability as a doctor.

Sonja was in a better state of mind that evening also. She was somewhat subdued in her demeanor, but at least she was not acting as if she was about to jump out of her skin. When she asked if she could lay with me, I scooted to the edge of the bed and she carefully crawled in beside me. A few minutes later, Coleen and Helena departed, and Sarah went to bed. Sonja was pressed up tightly to my side. I knew she had something on her mind, so I waited patiently for her to spit it out. After ten minutes of snuggling, she finally let it out.

“I’ve been thinking about those horrid Juicers all day, Jeremiah. Not just about what they did to me. I am coming to grips with that. I was thinking about what they felt compelled to do to their own bodies.

“Until this evening, I thought that Professor Ballard had coerced his followers into his plans. I know different now, because Tonya’s investigation of Ballard has already turned up dozens more people in the process of altering themselves to become juicers. That’s why Tonya’s not here, by-the-way, she’s out rounding up the last of them.

“All this evening, I’ve also been thinking about what I saw in New London, and at the Juicer camp. As I thought about it, I realized that Liz Smith was correct when she said our society is on the verge of collapse. I’m not ready to say her ideas are the solution, but I have to admit that her people are the only ones doing anything constructive about it.”

I agreed with Sonja, but I did not know if she was expressing how she felt, or if she was acting as an agent for the Pleiad to gain information from me. Even if she was the Pleiad’s agent, I still spoke truthfully. I was through with stepping lightly around these folks.

“You are right that Liz’s ideas might not be the best, but they are a dozen times better than what is happening in this valley. And if you think about it, the Juicers were not that big a leap from the tinkering you all have done with nature anyway. Ballard just took your playing God to a new level. I really appreciate all you folks have done for me, but as soon as I am well enough to travel, I am heading out. I cannot in good conscience stay around here and watch as you folks commit slow suicide.”

I expected more of a reaction out of Sonja, but she did not even stiffen at my pronouncement.

“Where will you go?” was all she asked.

What she asked was also the question on my own mind. The way I looked at it, the three choices I faced were stay in the valley, join Liz’s cause, or go back to my own time. Choice number one, I had just ruled out, and the ill will between me and the people running this mess probably ruled out option three.

“I am probably going to join the New Englanders. I think what meager skills I have would be of better use to them than to you all anyway. If you can arrange it, I will tell Mister Bearclaw that as soon as I can walk.”

Again, Sonja did not react as I expected, instead, she nodded her head and chuckled.

“I don’t see you doing any less, Jeremiah. Although I have to add that your ‘meager skills’ have probably saved my life three times in the three weeks I’ve known you. Seriously, though, I am starting to see Liz’s point. It was a revelation to me that we as a society are so out of touch that something as insidious as the Juicers could flourish right under our noses.”

We talked a while longer, until the tablet Sarah gave me made me too drowsy to continue. I yawned and apologized to Sonja right before I started sawing logs.

I awoke the next morning as the first light of dawn filtering into the valley pushed away the gloom of the night. The sleep had refreshed me and I felt sinfully good as I stretched and yawned. My stretching disturbed the still snoozing Sonja, and she muttered something and pressed herself tighter against my side. How we both managed to make it through the night without falling off the bed was a miracle. We must not have moved an inch all night.

As much as I enjoyed cuddling with Sonja, natures call was stronger. I swung out of the bed and stood up. I was about to take a step, when I remembered my injured leg. I stopped short and stood still, waiting for it to protest such rough treatment so soon after my surgery. Strangely, my leg felt as good as the rest of me. I took a tentative step, and when I felt no hint of pain, shrugged and walked to the bathroom. As soon as I took the first step, I knew whatever Sarah had done was successful, because my foot swung up smoothly at the ankle and my gait was perfectly normal.

I had my head in the ice box, scrounging around for something to eat, when I heard Sarah gasp.

“What on Earth are you doing out of bed?” she screeched.

Her yelling woke up Sonja, who sat up quickly and gaped at us. I explained to Sarah how good I felt. She looked dubious, then amazed as I showed her that I could walk normally.

“There is no way you should have healed that rapidly. Go sit at the table and I’ll call for some breakfast for us. As soon as we eat, I’m taking you back to Mediscan.” She huffed.

Sarah became even testier when I insisted on taking a shower before I did anything else. Sonja volunteered to watch over me, however, so Sarah put up with it.

The shower made my good morning even better. I even whistled Dixie as Sonja sat on the covered porcelain thunder pot laughing her fool head off at my caterwauling.

Thirty minutes later, I was in my familiar spot on the metallic table in Mediscan Two. Since it was early morning, Sarah did not have any trouble securing the unit for her use. Sarah told me to lie still while the unit looked me over. I did not as much as twitch for the three minutes it took. Sarah was so intent on something on the picture machine, she seemed to forget I was there. She finally looked up when I called her name.

“Sorry,” she said contritely, “but this is amazing. The scan shows your leg almost completely healed. The osteoputty has completely set, the nerve splice looks as if you were never injured, and your wound is ninety percent closed. You can sit up, but stay on the scanning bed for a minute. I need Coleen’s take on this.”

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