Sunday, September 1

the patient

As I attempted to crawl to a safe hiding place I heard the scrape of metal underneath me. I looked down to see the end of the neko's vehicle, painted faded yellow and black stripes and lit with red signals blinking commands unknown to me.


I was unceremoniously flipped upwards. I spun head over heels like a pancake and landed on the red tiger's shoulder.

"OOF! You're heavy with all this crap on! For Bast's sake, why do ya keep trotting out that old uniform? It smells like mothballs and bandages!"

"It's nice to see you too, Koen..." I tried my best not to flail about as he skimmed through the jagged terrain. "I assume you have an explanation?"

"Okay, in a nutshell, that guy's reactor is gonna explode big enough to take all of New Babbage with him!" I caught sight of the feral horde of children surrounding Cold Dead Hans like a pack of wolves before the flight unceremoniously jerked to a stop. The inertia threw me off my son's shoulder, and I was again introduced to the dusty gravel that made up the floor of the crater.


"Koen, really..." I methodically rose to my feet and made a vain gesture at brushing my uniform clean. "I'm quite alright..."

"Yeah you are, but this kid isn't. We need your help with this one."

"Wounded?" I rushed to where two scruffy urchins were crouching over a third. I realized they were both girls when they raised their grubby faces to me. I froze in my tracks. They were both strikingly familiar!

One of them had only recently completed her internship at my New Babbage laboratory. "Why Bleue! Miss Bleue Lacroix! I thought you moved to Steelhead!"

"I've been doing a lot of traveling, Doctor." She rose to her feet, drawing a corroded axe from her belt. "And believe it or not I can fend for myself in places even harder than the Wastelands!"

"I'll take your word for it..." I remarked as she rushed past me to join her brethren. I could hear Hans protesting from the other side of the hill of debris.

"Stop this at once! The Guild hands out demerits for killing children!" *KLANG!* "You! Put some clothes on!" *KLANG!* "Get off me! Stop soiling my uniform!" *KLANG!*" Put that crowbar away this instant! Go find some PARENTS to run home to!"

I turned to the other girl...

"Kira?'re younger...?"

"She reincarnated. We call her Sprog now. Ryan here is in her tribe."

Sprog turned back to the boy, who was horribly jaundiced. He was gasping for air, but his mouth gagged with a stretch of cloth.

"He got bit by a ghoul. We thought it was dead after we shot it but it jumped up..."

I knelt next to the boy and reached for my medical kit.

"Well first of all he needs to breathe..." I snipped the cloth away with a pair of scissors. The boy's wound was at the base of the neck. It was already starting to fester. I opened his eyelid, his eye was already turning into a featureless silver orb. "If he can't breathe that hastens death, which leads straight to undeath." The boy screamed pitifully as I swabbed the wound with alcohol.

"Do your best, Dad. I gotta join the others." I shielded Ryan from the cloud of dust as Koen's board lifted again into the air and sped off.

I prepared a syringe of reanimation serum and injected directly into the wound. I counted the seconds quietly, as I felt for a pulse on the other side of his neck. I did my best to ignore the continued outrages of Hans as the child-warriors were shouting heave-ho and ripping the plating from his chassis.

Thirty seconds. I reexamined the wound. I glanced back up at Sprog.

"No change. Whatever this is, my serum has no effect."

I shook my head and began to dress the wound.

"I can't save him..."


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