The way hospitals look is all wrong. They should be small, unassuming little buildings with people inside who greet you with a smile and chat with you about sports or something strange a family member did. You should go to a hospital feeling like you’re going to be cared for. Instead, just about every hospital I’ve been to is built like the lair of a robot overlord. There’s always this large, squat glass and brick façade that seems to say, “Yeah, maybe we’ll heal you. Maybe we’ll break your nose instead. You got a problem with that?”
Inside hospitals it isn’t much better. Usually they have the same set up as prisons and public schools. Cinderblock walls, white tiled floors. Sure, it’s because it’s easy to clean, I get it. But by the same token, five minutes after someone vomits violently due to some obscure illness or bleeds to death in the hall after getting eviscerated in some gang-related altercation, everything is going to be cleaned up and forgotten. It’s enough to make one a little wary about one’s surroundings. Would I prefer blood stains and scorch marks? I don’t know. Some acknowledgment of the passage of humanity beyond what could be put on a sympathy card might be nice.
On the other hand, if hospitals weren’t so sterile and uniform, I might not have been able to dress like a janitor and watch from behind as the nurse working the desk entered her password into her computer. This is what took place after Janis walked in and asked about a patient named John Smith (“I know it’s weird, but I swear to you that’s his name!”). If there weren’t so many regulations in place about how nurses and doctors should dress, Janis and I might not have been able to don scrubs and enter the room of Cooper Fox and Dale Mulder past visiting hours without anyone raising a fuss.
As it stands, I’m just glad we’re the good guys. At least, I hope we’re the good guys. Janis is looking over “Cooper Fox”’s chart, turning through the pages and referring back to the first page to check something. “You able to read that?” I tried myself, but unfortunately the papers are more complicated than I expected.
Janis nods. “Online resources are available to help with the analysis.”
“How is he?”
“He is stable.”
“Well, that’s good. The other guy looks good too. I guess we didn’t need to worry.”
The fluorescent lights above us hum softly. The respirators whosh and click. The EKGs plot out the agents’ heartbeats with hopeful desperation. Cooper Fox has a bandage over his eye and forehead. Janis is staring at him.
“What is it?”
“A piece of shrapnel went through his eye socket, into his brain. They were able to retrieve it. There was, however, irreparable damage.”
“He will not die from the brain injury. He is in a coma. He may even recover on his own.”
“But he has brain damage.”
“What about the other guy? Any surprises there?”
Janis picks up his clipboard and looks through it. “Second and third degree burns. He will likely make a full recovery.”
“Great,” I say. “That means we only have to take one of them back to Ecklund.”
Janis snaps her attention to me so fast I’m worried the boxes on her head might fall off. Her fans start to whir furiously, and then stop. “I did not plan on going back.”
“Yeah, I know. We’ll have to steal an ambulance or something. Plus we have to figure out how to get him out of this room without anybody noticing.”
“You knew what I would want to do before I did.”
“It’s not that hard to figure out. He’s got brain damage, you feel responsible, you come from facility that specializes in treating brain damage. Of course you’re going to want to take him there. It’s just a matter of working out how to do it.”
“Why are you still helping me?”
This stops me.
“You have done enough. You can leave if you want. You should leave.”
“Is that an order?” I ask, laughing nervously. My expression turns to a frown as I try to work out why it is that I have to keep helping her. It isn’t just inertia any more. There’s something else. “I don’t know, Janis. We can help this guy. I can help you. It wouldn’t seem right to leave you alone on this. I care about you.” The words are out of my mouth before I can think to stop them. But then I can’t bring myself to take them back. Mostly because they’re true.
Janis tilts her head in thought for a moment. “I think I care about you as well,” she says.
I cough nervously, “Right! And we both care about what happens to agent Fox here, so let’s get this guy to the brain doctor!”