After not formally writing for a week and half, I feel as if I should be entering rehab; I have (looks about) five pages of notes from downtime at DayJob and quiet times about my house but when I just didn’t the time to sit down in front of the laptop.
That came to an end today. Daughter #2 off on a cancer fun-raiser, wife doing something about the house somewhere… I’d no more excuses. I fired up the pellet stove in the basement and came down thirty minutes later to write. So far, it’s working. 3k words of Faustina’s recover in the Knoxville hospital flowed right out. There’s much there: her physical condition, the reaction of her family to her injuries, and her fervent desire to return to “her boys” as soon as she is able. It will be a balancing act for her, in, I think, three parts. Here’s part one.
“Uff!” Faustina huffed as her arms supported her weight on the parallel bars in the hospital’s Physical Rehab unit. The nurse there, Mrs. Keynes, was only a few feet away and watching her progress closely.
“You are,” the nurse observed, “in surprisingly good shape, for a p-kid. Most of them while their lives away in the Void.”
“I have, dammit! Ouch!” Faustina complained through gritted teeth when her right hand slipped from the pain and her right foot hit the ground, sending sparks through her mind. “I have legions to command! I’ve been here for two weeks! I have to go back!”
“Let me help you,” Nurse Keynes began, reaching out…
“You’ll do no such thing, Tammy!” her patient snarked at her. “Let me!”
“Fine,” the nurse said, instead using her hands to peel what little grip Faustina still had on the right bar away from her. Unable to stand without screaming, she collapsed. Not quite screaming.
With surprising strength for someone over twice her age, Faustina found hands under her shoulders and her butt dropped into a waiting wheelchair a moment later. Using her lines to mimic painkillers, she chose to ignore the pain.
“What kind of effing nurse…!” she began.
“The kind who wants the best for their patient,” Keynes yelled right back. “Legion commander! Princess! Right here, right now, you are my personal responsibility and one I take deadly serious! I will heal you as best and soonest I can, little missy, but on my professional terms! Not your selfish desires!”
Faustina wanted to yell back but was older from her time as a leader: push responsibility and decision-making as far down as possible and allow people to amaze you. She lowered her head.
“I apologize. It will be as you say. Just, please!” Her head came back up, looking at her nurse’s face over her white scrub shirt, her eyes pleading, “I have to get back to my boys!”
“You will, you will, Miss Hartmann,” she replied. “Are you able to try again?”
Faustina considered her pain. None of the signals pointed to anything critical.
“Yes, Mrs. Keynes.”
“And one more thing?” the nurse said quietly, helping her patient back to the bars. “In private, you may use my name. And it is not ‘Tammy!’”
Faustina tossed her a grin that had won over so many of her boys.
“Thank you, Tamera!” She lifted herself with her arms. “Here I go!”
Halfway down, Faustina became aware of movement in the doorway to the large room. Likely other patients and nurses. She ignored them and her pain to force a little weight onto her feet and legs. Finally getting to the end, it surprised her when Tamera used a little cloth towel to wipe the sweat off of her forehead. Two people – men, she sensed – clapped briefly behind her.
“Father! Big brother!” she called after tossing a glance over her right shoulder. “About time you got here! This nurse is a bully!”
Faustina felt Keynes’ right hand on the fingers of her left…
“I kid! I kid! She’s wonderful!” she backtracked quickly to not fall again.
“She is, I know,” her brother agreed, coming forward to shake Keynes’ hand. “That’s why I asked for her, personally.”
“So it was you who ruined my vacation plans!” Tamera Keynes gasped in a poor imitation of someone offended. Her dark blue eyes under her short, flaxen hair were sparkling. “As it was just starting to warm up, we were all headed to the lake!”
“You’ll do better, ugh!” Faustina grunted, turning herself about, unbidden, “to follow me back to Savannah in a couple of weeks! I promise a beach barbeque!”
Knowing she had successfully made herself the center of attention again, Faustina forced herself one more time down the bars, her feet flat on the ground.
“Sister, please,” Gary took a step closer, “your pain is obvious…!”
“Just weakness leaving my cute little body, ‘bro! You’re here; I can’t die!”
“Good Lord, you two,” she heard her father finally speak.
All were silent until she made it back and lowered her head, sweat dripping off of her face. Nurse Keynes quickly had her patient back into the wheelchair and excused herself to get some water.
“Go ahead, Daddy,” Faustina’s breath was very ragged. “I know you won’t say it, ‘cause you love me, so I’ll say it for you: I told you so!”
“You silly girl!” they were both surprised to see him on his knees before her chair, taking her into his arms. “I could never wish harm to you! You’ve no idea how worried we’ve been… I have been!”
“I… I’m sorry,” tears mixed with Faustina’s sweat as she leaned to hold her father. “I am so sorry!”
Her nurse paused in the doorway, giving them plenty of time. Faustina was aware her brother went to her to be briefed on her condition. She focused her attention on her father.
“Hey, Dad, I know now’s not the time, but I want to give you a complete rundown of what we did – right and wrong – and what you would have done differently. I don’t think I’ll have time now, I’ve got to get better, well, good enough, and get back to my boys soonest. But… when I come back home. Is that okay?” she quietly asked.
“That…” he took a handkerchief from a pocket and blew into it, “would be fine. But how soon…? Your brother’s not been totally honest with your mother and me about what happened to you!”
“Gary!” she yelled. “Don’t lie to our family! Even by omission!”
“It was very simple, really, Daddy,” she returned her eyes to his, “the PLA Space Force used orbital kinetic bombardment on our position. I was dumb enough to break cover to make one last check on my boys around me just as the rod hit. I died a couple of times. First godmother, then big bro’, with his wife and Aunt Dorina, brought me back! Simple, really! Why are your hands shaking so much?”
“Gary?!” their father was obviously very unhappy. “She died?”
“Yes, father. But she is much better now.”
Faustina had to bite her lower lip to stop her laughter at the two men. She shot a look to her nurse.
“All right!” Keynes commanded. “You two guys out of here! I’m taking her first for a snack then some hydrotherapy. Y’all can join her again for dinner. Shoo!”
Not wanting to go all the back to her room and knowing that an appearance in the hospital’s cafeteria would be a PR circus, nurse and patient agreed to have Faustina sit quietly on an outside patio just off the Rehab room. Keynes was back in fifteen minutes with some scrambled eggs and a protein shake.
“Sit with me, please, Tamera?” Faustina asked with her smile.
“Thought you might ask that,” her nurse replied, pulling up a chair and taking a small bag containing some nuts and cheese from a pocket.
Faustina ate all of her egg before pausing to turn her face almost straight up into the just-past noon sun with her eyes closed.
“What’s it like?” Tamera asked.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Faustina continued, now opening her turquoise eyes to look right into the sun, “I never got to the ‘tunnel of light’ stuff. When my heart stopped it was just a dreamy state… I was aware and not aware of myself. When my brain flatlined? If my godmother had not selfishly kept me back, I’d like to think I’d be trudging up the mountain of Purgatory right now.”
Faustina looked down and at her drink. She reached out and took a pull through the straw.
“I wonder if Henge would have seen me?” she whispered.
“What was that?” Tamera asked.
“Nothing, nothing,” Faustina said with another smile before returning to the straw. “Some of my extended family are a little… odd.”
Tamera began coughing so badly on a nut, Faustina thought she would have to force herself out of her chair to save her, but was waved back down.
“S… sorry!” her nurse finally said. “Whew! A girl who is rewired by thinking machines and takes an army over the mountains to fight one of the world’s last great powers! And she calls the rest of her family ‘odd’!”
Tamera smiled back at her charge.
“By the time we have you to the pool and into a suit, swimming should be fine,” Nurse Keynes said, indicating Faustina’s plate and bottle. “It’s not as if you’re going to swimming laps, after all.”
Faustina looked sly.
“Just try to stop me!”