Firebird, Chapter 21

Post got a bit delayed due to birthday meandering. Turned 27 yesterday!

Anyway. Not much to report. I’ve been working on the marketing side of the business for the past few days. Getting back to work on Tempest’s first draft today, though!

Today’s chapter deals with the aftermath of last week’s bombing. We see Jo tell Aiden off, meet an interesting doctor, and find an old friend that Mieshka hasn’t heard from for a long time.


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It took over half an hour to reach the Core, and Mieshka felt every jolting, jarring step. Her legs ached. Every time Roger moved, his wrist-sheath caught the underside of Mieshka’s knee, digging into the tendon. A new bruise had formed, adding to the slow ache of the rest of her body. She’d lost feeling in her left thigh a while back, but the bandage felt hot and wet.

The painkillers were back at the office. By now, they’d be an inedible pile of ash and melted plastic.

Great.

She grit her teeth as they moved on.

Originally, the group had intended to stop at Mo’s, the local gun runner who ran his shop out of a half-buried strip mall partway between Aiden’s office and the Core. But, when they arrived, the lights were off, the place was quiet, and the shop’s hurricane doors had been rolled down and locked.

They’d moved on.

Now that the adrenaline had left her system, exhaustion rushed in. She fought it, focused on the pain to keep her awake. But the darkness of the tunnel and Roger’s smooth, rolling gait lulled her down. She could just rest her eyes, right? She leaned her forehead against Roger’s shoulder. He turned his head, the tunnel just light enough to make out his eyes.

After a second, he faced ahead. Mieshka closed her eyes.

When she woke up, they had reached the Core.

The small storefront they stopped at had once been a tattoo parlor. Faded designs and lettering decorated the front window, spelling out Golden Wolf Studio in an old, tribal-styled script. On the bottom right of the window, several strips of clear tape stuck the broken window together.

Drawn in permanent marker, a somewhat newer addition adorned the shop’s door: a snake-entwined staff that Mieshka recognized from the fronts of hospitals and clinics.

Jo blocked the door, her phone to her ear.

I don’t know who attacked your office. They threw a grenade through the window. I wasn’t exactly taking names at that point.”

She paused. On the other side of the line, Mieshka recognized Aiden’s voice. She couldn’t hear his exact words, but the tone sounded less than pleased.

Jo’s face soured. Her next statement dripped with sarcasm. “Well maybe you should update your security software, then. I’ve got to go. Meese is bleeding.”

She snapped the phone shut.

I’m bleeding?” Mieshka asked. She glanced down. As far as she could tell, everything was okay. Everything hurt, but that, unfortunately, was not a new thing for her today.

Probably.” Jo shoved the phone back into her pocket and tried the doorhandle. When it wouldn’t budge, she put her shoulder to the door. Wood groaned as she forced it open. “You got roughed up a bit. We’d be idiots if we didn’t take you in for a checkup.”

As they entered the clinic, the smell of antiseptic came to her. Chairs lined the lobby’s walls, and a receptionist’s desk sat empty on the opposite side. Dingy curtains separated them from the rest of the clinic.

They were alone.

Jo strode up to the desk. “Hello?”

Shit. Just a second.” The reply came from the far back. It sounded somewhat strangled, with a hint of an accent Mieshka couldn’t quite place. Glass clinked, and the curtain fluttered as she heard someone move around. “Chris—go see who it is.”

Mieshka perked up. Had he said “Chris”?

Footsteps sounded behind the curtain. A second later, a head poked around.

Like a large portion of the Underground, Chris was of Chinese descent. He had the same olive skin tone as Roger, but stood a an inch shorter and lacked water elemental’s menace. His black hair had been cropped short, and he wore a band t-shirt that Mieshka recognized from class.

An eyebrow lifted as he recognized them. “Meese?”

She waved her bandaged hand. “Hey.”

He ducked behind the curtain.

Roger tilted his head back toward her. “You scared him off.”

She poked his shoulder. “I bet it was you.”

Behind them, McKay slumped her packs against a potted tree in the corner and lay two rifles across three of the chairs.

Chris returned a minute later, a clipboard in hand.

What happened?” he asked.

She probably ripped her stitches.” Jo glanced at Mieshka’s face. “And could use a couple doses of painkiller.”

And we don’t want this on the books,” Roger said.

Sounds fun,” said the accented voice behind the curtain. Paper shuffled. “Bring her back here, I’ve cleared the chair.”

As Roger carried her behind the curtain, the smell of chemicals grew stronger. A shadow passed across a second set of curtains, the form blurred by the folds and the hazy overhead light.

Jo pulled the curtain back for them, revealing the room beyond.

An aging chair—no doubt a leftover from the building’s former business, sat in the center, flanked on one side by a wheeled metal table. A mix of chemistry equipment crowded its top, a simple distilling setup Mieshka remembered from class. A mixture boiled in one of the beakers, the steam captured as it rose and funneled into another beaker at its side. The Bunsen burner’s flame tickled the edge of her senses.

Beyond, another hallway stretched into the back of the building, its yellowed drywall patched and cracked. The overhead light—a naked mercury bulb with a coiled filament—had burned out in the ceiling, leaving the passageway in shadow.

A door clicked shut. Movement blurred the edge of the hallway. A second later, the doctor walked into the room.

Or, at least, Mieshka assumed he was the doctor. He wore a loud, Hawaiian-styled shirt—white, with bright pink flowers and vivid blue leaves—and faded, worn jeans cut off at the knee. Caucasian, with skin almost as white as Mieshka’s, he had thin, graying hair and a weathered look to his face.

Without a word, he pointed to the chair. Wiry muscle flexed in his forearm.

Roger put her down. Mieshka slumped back, gritting her teeth against the pain. A thin white sheet separated her from the chair’s old leather.

With his other hand, he pointed to Jo. “You, stay. The rest of you, out.”

As they filed out, Chris lingered in the background. He’d regained the clipboard, Mieshka noticed.

The doctor rolled the distilling station away, then paused by the side of the chair. He peered at her through his glasses.

My name is Claude Deforet. You won’t remember me, but I treated you during your coma a few months back. Used to work in Mercy’s trauma ward. Good to see you conscious, at least. Although… Hmm.” He scanned her body, eyes lingering where the bandages lumped under her clothing. “You have stitches? How many, and where?”

Jo answered for her. “Thirteen. Three in the shoulder, each thigh, and four on the back of her calf. She was treated by Dr. Lin on 47th street yesterday.”

And did Dr. Lin prescribe anything?”

Tylenol.”

Claude wrinkled his nose. “What a pussy. Chris, go get the oxycodone.”

Mieshka smiled. She already liked this doctor.

Shadow fell across her face as he leaned over her. He shone a penlight across her eyes, making her jerk back. Two fingers pressed against the inside of her wrist.

She’s in shock.” He paused, eyes zoning out. “Heart rate normal. Burning up a little, but, in my experience, that’s normal for a fire element.”

Have you treated many fire elementals?” Mieshka asked.

You’re my second.” He patted her arm, then rounded on Jo. “Now, before we continue, let me see that arm.”

Jo grimaced. For the first time, Mieshka noticed the blood trailing down the mercenary’s sleeve. The wound, slicing through her bicep, looked raw, ragged, and painful.

Is it from the blast?”

The former soldier nodded. “Shrapnel. I’m fine.”

We’ll get to that one later, then.” The doctor leaned back, giving Mieshka a view of the cracked and stained ceiling. “I need to remove her bandages. There’s a gown she can change into. Help her.”

A few minutes later, they were ready to begin. But, as Deforet’s dull-pointed scissors pressed against her leg and cut through the bandage, the lights went out.

Merde.”


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