Toolfa: Crook Hub
“Ah, you're awake.” said a disembodied voice I didn't recognise. The voice was male, heavily accented (insofar that I could tell he wasn't from the Empire) and professionally friendly.
I tried opening my eyes, and immediately had to close them again. The light was painfully bright. I preferred the blackness. It seemed bizarre to even have eyes at all. The last thing I could remember was dying. I couldn't remember the exact circumstances, but I had definitely died. I moved my hand to my ribs, surprised to feel that they were intact. I vaguely recalled a hole having been punched right through my body. No doubt my fatal injury, or so I seemed to remember. The skin, however, felt smooth and I could count all of my ribs. No holes there. Had I imagined it? I tried to speak, but my mouth was incapable of making coherent sounds, instead drawling unintelligibly. “Whu-maaah-uhhh...”
“Don't try to talk just yet, Mr Roche. But I assure you, you're somewhere quite safe.” the coolly friendly voice replied. “I'm Dr Bollenberg, your surgical consultant. The stem cell cultures have grafted perfectly. In another couple of weeks no-one would ever know that there had ever been a hole in your chest. Though it will be another month or two before your lung fully regrows. You will need to avoid any strenuous exercise or other aerobic activity for a while. Though having met your wife, I can see how that might be difficult.” The consultant added wryly, his tone envious and lascivious.
“Nuu-fiff?” Again the words wouldn't seem to form properly in my mouth, my tongue and lips unable to make the right shapes. Amazingly, the doctor appeared to have understood my question. I tried opening my eyes again, but a bright stab of pain clamped them shut instantly.
“Oh yes, Mr Roche, she's quite a lovely specimen, if I may say so. You're very lucky to have someone so devoted to you. She's barely left your side since you were brought in.” Bollenberg explained. I could sense the heat from slack fingers pressing against the palm of my left hand. Whoever was touching me must have been asleep. “And rather capable, too. She did magnificently well to even dock your ship after the pirate attack you were injured in, from what I've been told. Barely a thruster left functioning, or so the dockmaster said.”
“Shp?” With every effort to speak, I got closer to making understandable sounds. Buoyed by this triumph, I tried to look around again, only to be forced back into the darkness. “Bru-iht!”
“Oh! I'm sorry, Mr Roche. Of course, I should turn the lights down. You've not seen the light, as it were, for six weeks after all.” Bollenberg sounded genuinely apologetic. There was a faint beeping and the darkness behind my eyelids seemed to get even blacker. “There you are. You should find that more comfortable. But yes, your ship was very badly damaged in the attack. Almost a write-off, I believe. Those pirates must have been very well-equipped. The repairs will be rather expensive, I fear.”
I turned my head in the direction of his voice and experimented with opening just one eye. This time the light was dim enough not to hurt, but I was still able to make out details around the room, though the colours were slightly washed out in the gloom. I opened the other eye and I finally saw my rather forward, but gregarious doctor. Bollenberg was tall, with a round face, narrow chin and a shock of pale red hair spiked on the centre of his close-cropped pate. He smiled welcomingly with broad, thin lips, tucking a data stylus into the breast pocket on his white coveralls, before looking down to check my vital signs on his wrist screen. Once he was satisfied, he wiped the screen with the palm of his hand, the image disappearing to be replaced with a fabric that looked identical to the rest of his medical bodysuit. The hospital room was Spartan but similarly high tech, the bed surrounded by machines whose function I could only guess at. Now that my senses were becoming sharper, I felt several electrodes and monitoring devices attached to my upper chest, communing wirelessly with the diagnostic and treatment machines around my bed. I was about to tell the doctor that my left leg felt numb, but when I looked down to double-check that it was still attached to my body, the reason for the odd sensation became obvious. Resting on my thigh was the head of a young woman, her face concealed by a long, golden mane of hair. It was her slender hand I had felt in my palm earlier, and I squeezed her fingers as hard as I could, reaching across my body with my other hand to stroke her long, thin neck through her hair, hoping to wake her gently. “Kar-i-na.”
“That's right, your wife, Karina Dementyeva. Curious that I couldn't find any record of your marriage.” Bollenberg said, amused. “But then you Imperials have strange customs. Polygamy, for example. These things aren't recognised in civilised space... Your wife was very resistant to the idea that we should speak with your other wife – that is, the one we could find records for – Laure Torval. What is it with you Imperials? Do your wives never take their husband's name?”
Disgusted, I made a dismissive noise and the surgeon took the hint.
“Well, now that you're awake, you can inform her of your accident yourself, Mr Roche. You'll be back on your feet in a couple of days.” Bollenberg retreated to the door, bowing. “Anyway, I should let you two get reacquainted. I'll be back to check on you tomorrow.”