The Second Bridge, Coda, pt1

I was just tooling around the keyboard, kinda thinking I’d write a story about Faustina.  I wrote two paragraphs.  Two days went by.  Nothing.  I looked at the third paragraph.

“I can turn this into a glimpse both into what happened after Henge was made, as well as a tinier glimpse eighteen months into her future.”

And…

“Who’s Lauren?”

I deleted the first two paragraphs and tried again.

With a last “huf!” Lauren pushed her bicycle to the ridge that separated the Clinch River and Tennessee River watersheds. Her eight fish in their basket between her handlebars made increasingly fainter protests. In twenty minutes she’d be home and cleaning them for dinner.

“Stopping,” the girl next to her said, braking her bike. She only had two fish.

Suppressing her sigh, Lauren slowed and stopped. Her friend was already off and stepping out of her shorts and around a tree. Stepping back into them, she returned a moment later.

“How is it, friend Lauren,” she asked, “you are so much better at fishing than I when I am better at everything else?”

“How do you see fishing?”

“Hunting underwater.”

“Ah. To me, it’s a chance to relax… especially with friends!”

The puzzlement in her friend’s eyes was evident. Even after fourteen months together she’d so much to learn. Lauren watched as she swung her leg over her bike. Her breath caught when she suddenly looked up, her smile lighting up her golden eyes.

“I’ll do better, next time, friend Lauren!” Henge said.

 

They’d met at Mass. It was the first time Henge had gone to Church in meatspace and it was obvious she found the emotions overwhelming. The cathedral was just a bit southwest of the much-reduced city of Knoxville. It had been built only a few years before the Breakup. Since then, the Spanish service had been jettisoned along with the illegals and one of the two Sunday Masses was Tridentine. Callie had told her husband in no uncertain terms that was the one she and the kids would attend.

They’d arrived early – even Leslie deigned to come along, Christian in name only – to give Henge a chance to look around and to go to Reconciliation.

“What possibly could she have to confess? She’s only been human a week!” Leslie muttered as more parishioners wandered in. If all of former greater Knoxville’s Catholics showed up, it would only have been half full. He felt his wife shake with poorly suppressed laughter.

“While I’m pretty sure they’ve not broken any Commandments, I’ve stumbled upon them getting right up to the edge of one!” Faustina tittered.

“Fussy, please!” Gary sighed from his sister’s right.

“Gary,” his father turned with what he hoped was a glare, “you gave us your word…”

“While there have been occasion where our hands may have wandered more than they should,” he ignored his mother’s and sister’s snorts and continued, “we’ve done nothing to impugn our, nor the family’s, honor. Sir.”

Leslie pretended to consider his son’s statement, already knowing it was true.

“Good.” He pronounced, just as Henge returned to where they sat in the second row. Callie quickly came to her feet.

“Daughter, you’re crying! Was the priest mean to you?!” She cried, loud enough for those around them to turn and look.

“Not at all, Mrs. Hartmann,” she always was more formal. “It was just my first time… with this body…”

She blinked and dabbed one of the hankies she’d taken to carrying about to her eyes.

“May I ease past you three and sit with my Intended?”

“Of course!” Callie let her by but with a small hug as she did.

“May I sit in your lap, Gary?”

“Squee!” Faustina.

“Cough.” His father.

“Please,” Gary patted his right hand onto the pew. “Here.”

Having been in the world only a week, rumors about the unusual girl had washed about the town like the tide. Her sole public appearance had been when Callie had brought her along with Faustina to the Farmers Market. Everyone was polite, but everyone wanted to meet her; that turned a forty-five minute trip into two hours. Now at the church, something similar was happening: people were arraying themselves to get a look at the – literal – new girl.

A family of five eased into the pew just to Henge’s right. The Kinkade’s, Gary recalled. Their youngest daughter, sitting next to his Intended, was Lauren. About a year and a half older… already worked at the hospital in some capacity.

“Gary?” Henge leaned her left shoulder into him and took his hand as she somehow sensed his changed mood. Feelings such as those fascinated her and Dorina, alike.

“I should get a job,” he muttered.

This again, she thought. She was about to reply when the jingle of bells announced the beginning of Mass. She stood with everyone else, not quite suppressing her shaking.

“Nervous?” her love whispered.

“Excited!”

Henge paid close attention during the Liturgy of the Word. At the Creed, it was as easy to hear her lifted voice as the priest’s through the speakers. Gary was fending off his sister’s rib pokes brought to an abrupt end by their father’s bopping his fist onto her head.

“Ooww!” she muttered.

Kneeling during Consecration, Gary noted his Intended was beginning to shake again.

“It’ll be fine,” he whispered.

“My first time! So nervous, beloved!”

He heard Fussy’s little snicker at her first comment.

As a family, they stood. At the end of the pew Gary waved for Henge to go on before him. Her smile lit her face up. He watched his mother, father, sister receive the Lord. With his right hand on her shoulder, he saw his love tilt her head back. With a smile to the both of them, the priest placed the Host onto her tongue. He felt her jaw move twice. Then nothing.

The eyes of the priest grew large. Henge was falling backward into his arms.

Gary watched as her golden eyes rolled up into her skull. Her mouth was beginning to foam.

“Medical emergency!” the priest yelled, passing he bowl of Hosts to the Deacon. “We need a nurse or doctor, now!”

“Uh! Unnnh!” Henge made odd sounds as she began to twitch violently in his arms. There was a slap of a hand onto his left shoulder.

“Get her down! Onto me!”

Gary turned in surprise to see the barely older girl, Lauren, already on her knees behind him. He knew how to follow orders and placed his love into her arms.

Hers immediately came up as she shoved the two fingers of her left hand into Henge’s mouth, who bit her.

“Arrrgh! SHIT! I need phenobarb, phenytoin, or bromide, STAT!” she shouted to the ceiling of the church.

“I’ve a kit in my truck, hold on!” A man from some ways back yelled in reply. Gary heard feet running away.

Every member of the Society could deal with trauma. As a Pioneer, Leslie had dealt with head wounds that resulted in seizures. This Grand Mal was beyond him. The least he and his wife could do was clear a space. A space to watch his future daughter-in-law suffer and perhaps die.

“At least we’re in a church,” he said between clenched teeth.

“Not funny!” his wife hissed back.

Henge’s actions were not as bad as Leslie had seen in the field: her violent flinching continued. The girl with her hand in Henge’s mouth added her right hand to hold her forehead while carefully entwining their legs together. He watched as Gary put his fingertips onto his Intended’s face.

“Gary…!”

“Dorina has no idea. This is beyond any of them.” His son replied.

“Yeee! SHIT!” The girl, as she was bit, again.

“Ahhhh! Hurts!” A yell from Faustina, behind Gary, made heads quickly turn. She had her hands on either side of hers as a ring of turquoise fire burned around each of her dilated irises. Outside, warning sirens began to wail.

“My godmother comes like the wind! The lights for her and from here to the hospital are in our favor! I’m getting everyone out of the way.” She gripped her own head tighter as she began to cry. “This hurts!”

“What the hell…?” came from several sides of those in the church. There was a bang of a door and running.

“MAKE A HOLE!” Leslie shouted. Parishioners fell over each other to clear the main aisle. A man in his mid-thirties slid the last eight feet on his knees while tearing open a canvas bag. He produced a tiny vial and syringe.

“Phenobarb, nine months out of date!”

“Draw it up and put it in my right!” Lauren yelled at him.

Gary didn’t know who the man was, but as his hands did not shake in the slightest he must be some kind of urgent responder.

“Ready!” he called.

Not looking back, the girl put out her right hand.

“It’s a blunt-fill needle! I can’t – ”

“Fuck you! OUCH! Give it to me! This is an IM!”

He passed it to her. Without a glance she slammed the large gauge needle into Henge’s right thigh and pushed down the plunger with her thumb.

“SHARPS!” she yelled, pulling it out and flicking it along the floor, behind her.

“Got it!” the man replied.

From a constant series of flinches and bites, Henge immediately slowed to about one every three seconds. She bit even less, so the scatological shouts into the cathedral’s air dropped off quickly.

The main door of the church was thrown open so violently it broke off two of its three hinges. Gary had only enough time to look up to see Fausta’s combat android in the doorway then before him, picking up both girls. A turn and she was gone. There was a squeal of tires from outside the now-broken door.

Anyone who’d survived the Breakup was not prone to panic. Still, their Remnant of modern, Western Civilization had allowed many of them to forget what life was really like.

“Sweet Jesus…” the priest muttered, forgetting he was still mic’ed. A small flinch at his mistake, he waved at the Deacon to return Christ to him.

“Immediately following Communion, we shall all say a full Rosary for the recovery of the young woman, Henge… er…?”

He glanced at Gary’s family. Without the slightest hesitation, his father spoke up.

“Henge Hartmann. As soon as this medical emergency has passed, she shall marry my son.”

“Eeeee!” Finally taking her hands from the sides of her head, Faustina fell into her mother’s arms.

A nod from the priest.

“… for Henge Hartmann, who, as most of you know,” he gave a smile of amazement, “is the Lord God’s latest creation!”

The Communion line reformed and moved quickly. Following the cleaning of the sacred vessels, he walked around to the front of the sanctuary and, to everyone’s surprise, knelt down and began the Rosary. His wife and daughter kneeling and crying as they spoke on either side of him, Leslie thought he may as well pray, too. Still, he had to ask.

“Shouldn’t we follow them to the hospital?” he asked as softly as he could.

“Daddy!” Faustina just beat her mother and brother to reply. “Do you doubt my godmother?!”

 

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