The Impossible Dream - part 2
By Chakat Bluestripe (a.k.a Joe Prescott)
I am alone again with my pain but I am too frightened to cry. I have failed to protect my mate and I am ashamed. The thought of meeting Red's parents has me terrified. What if they won't forgive me? What if they believe that I am responsible in some way for Red's death? I ask myself these questions and I struggle for answers.
The door to the room soon opens and Crystal, Thunder, and Summer cautiously come in. I am unable to describe the flood of emotions that come pouring into my mind. The feelings of love, pain, and sorrow churn and solidify inside of me and I start crying. I am smothered in hugs and closeness. For several minutes we are one big sobbing mass of bodies.
"I am so sorry for Path's death." I squeak out between breaths.
Crystal gently holds my head close to hir own. Shi looks into my tearful eyes and I feel hir love for me, "I know that you and Path did your best. None of us blame you for what those bastards did. In the last few years I have seen hir the happiest that shi's has ever been. I know that it was your love for each other that made hir that way. Shi has told me everything that you have done for hir and I thank you for the joy that you have brought to hir. We are all so happy that Path has brought you into our family."
I can sense the sincerity of hir words and I feel as if a tremendous weight has been lifted off of my soul. Emotions have overpowered my voice, but I am barely able to whisper, "Thank you so much for opening your arms to me and welcoming me into your family." The healing power of an un-weighted conscience is amazing and I quickly find myself feeling better but the pain of Red's death is still the foundation for all other emotions. I think everyone in the room can feel my sense of release as the tension level drops dramatically.
Thunder has been standing close and looking at all of my bandages and tubes "You know that when we first saw the broadcast of the terrorists we thought of the two of you. We knew that they were getting the best if they called out your team. We were all hoping to catch a glimpse of you on the news. The cameras were on the two of you as your shuttle arrived and you got out. We all cheered, we had never felt so proud as that moment when the cameras zoomed onto the both of you and they announced that the last two key members of the Team had arrived. Then they switched to the news studio and we just waited for the updates." Some of the neighbors rushed over to ask if it was really you that they showed."
Thunder starts to break up a little and Summer continues, "We had a whole bunch of people over when the news reported the explosion. They replayed the explosion and we could clearly see you and a couple of others… We didn't know if it was you or Path lying there…we couldn't move. We just sat there in disbelief. The medtechs were there and we could tell that one of the men was dead. They all started working on you and…" Summer starts us all crying again.
Slowly we bring ourselves back under control and I reach over to Crystal and hug hir close. I can't let go. I need to feel hir there. Somewhere deep in my subconscious I need this. I can sense that shi is at ease as shi holds me tight. My soul needs to be calmed and shi is my outlet. I pour all of my emotions and my last bit of strength on hir as if shi was my mother. Shi starts crying as I drift off to sleep bathed in forgiveness and understanding while being cradled in love.
I have no sense of time when the doctor awakens me. Shi and a nurse are there and they have brought along a rolling tray, everyone else has gone. "We are going to have a look under your bandages, you shouldn't need them any longer," shi tells me.
"Uh... Okay... I guess," I murmur.
They start by unwrapping the bandage from my head. The feeling of fresh air against my head is somehow unsettling. "The sutures have healed very well. You had a subdural hematoma and we needed to crack you open quickly and poke around a little to release cranial pressure but you have healed fine here," shi says.
Without thinking, I raise my hand to rub my head. Instead of my soft fur and hair I find very short stubble! Reality hits me like brick wall "I need a mirror... NOW!" I snap.
"Just a minute, I'll go get one for you," the nurse says as she quickly leaves.
I'm thinking about all of the bandages around my body and what they might be hiding when the nurse enters with a small hand mirror. The mirror proves my worst fears… my head is almost entirely shaved! Only my ears were spared. I have fine white stubble with black fur ears. The shaver stopped just above my eyes but traced down my cheeks and around the back of my head. The front of my face is still black and the contrast is unbearable. An image of an early 20th century "Blackface" tap dancer enters my thoughts and I start shaking badly. Although I keep my hair only a couple of inches long, I do take pride in looking sharp. How can I be seen like this? How can I fix this? I haven't cared to hold back any of my emotions lately and the doctor is picking up my frustration.
"I see this all of the time," shi says, "It's not uncommon here in the hospital. It will grow back soon."
"I don't plan to stay in the hospital THAT long!" I complain back to hir.
"Oh don't be so difficult, I'm proud of my work and seeing you healing up so quickly makes me pleased, so stop being such a pain in the hindquarters!" shi says sharply.
The nurse snickers as she starts unwrapping my arm While the doctor starts unwrapping my leg "Well let's see how these are doing," the doctor says. Well I'm not surprised to see that my arm and leg are shaved also. My right arm is shaved up to and around my shoulder. They followed the curvature of my right breast before going under my arm. My fur naturally has a black patch, which starts on my right upper fore leg and extends around my front toward the left fore leg. The shaved area on my leg looks especially bad because of the white stubble mixing with the black stubble at odd angles.
"Oh yes," the doctor continues cheerfully, "you are looking much better then you were a few days ago. You can see here," as shi points to a scar running the length of my upper arm, "I had to reconstruct the humerus in your right arm. It wasn't pretty. Your muscles will be tender for a while and will take a little time for them to regain their strength. You also had a fractured humerus and a crushed ulna in your right fore leg but we fixed you up there too," shi says with a smile. I have a large bandage around my lower rib cage and stomach. The nurse has been silent but now she says, "I'm going to remove this dressing now. Don't be worried by all of the bruising. It is just left over from the surgery." She starts to cut through the bandage while the doctor supervises. I am chilled by the cool air on my exposed skin as the bandage is removed. This sensation is new to me. I have always had my fur to keep me warm but now I am getting cold. I look down at my poor body all shaved and bruised then I see IT! I am suddenly filled with a totally new emotion. I think it is a combination of embarrassment and modesty. My sheath has been totally shaved and my pink skin is radiating like a beacon. "I picked that up clearly enough," says the doctor while trying hir best to keep a straight face. "Don't worry about it, I see that all the time here. We will remove the catheter next and then you'll be able to urinate normally." The nurse has the slightest smile as she carries away the old bandages. I look down at my body again and I see that there is only one bandage left. It is wrapped around the end of my half-tail.
"What the hell, take off the last one and get it over with." I say to the doctor.
"Oh, I am going to leave your tail covered for at least two more days. You need time to finish growing skin over the end of it." That is an odd thought, and reality sinks in a little more. "I will be removing the catheter now. You will feel a slight discomfort." In all of history, doctors have been using those famous last words to prepare people for a Great discomfort.
"Just try to relax, it will be much easier if you do," the doctor says as shi makes the final preparations.
"You want me to relax! I don't know how the hell you snaked that thing up in there but I sure as hell can't relax while you yank it out!" I'm anything but relaxed now and getting tenser every minute.
"OK, have it your way." Shi says.
More "famous last words!" I think to myself. The doctor walks up to the bed and jumps up with hir hand paws holding mine. Shi holds my arms down and in my weakened state I don't even try to resist. The nurse starts removing the catheter and I have never been so tense down there. "AIEECHEE!" Followed by some feeble whimpers is all I can say as the tube pulls out. Everyone on the whole floor of the hospital must have heard the result of that operation.
"I still think you should have relaxed… But you wanted to do it your way," the doctor says with an evil grin as shi releases me.
"After that, I don't think I will ever be able to urinate normally!" I say while rubbing my sheath gently.
Summer comes walking in the room and I am relieved to see hir. Shi walks up next to the doctor and stands there with a huge smile. Shi starts looking me over from top to bottom and gleefully says, "Am I interrupting something, or are you just happy to see me?"
Then I notice that they are all looking at me, still rubbing my sheath. "Oh shut up already!" I say half jokingly to cover my humiliation.
The doctor and nurse start laughing, "We'll give you two some privacy," they snicker as they leave the room.
Summer is still grinning from ear to ear as shi sits near the bed, "I was down the hall when I heard this peculiar noise. I trotted down here to investigate. I know that a highly trained member of the Special Forces would never cry out like that… So who could it have been?" The sarcasm in hir voice is obviously all in fun but I am still embarrassed by my looks.
"Would you please stop teasing me… I feel worse than I look, you know!"
"Oh you don't look that ba… well, I've seen wor… humm? Ok, I'm sorry... You must feel awful!" Shi snickers, but then I sense hir excitement. "I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere!" shi says as shi's trotting out the door.
"Where can I go?" I say. I can sense hir emotions and I can tell that shi is planning something that will no doubt involve me and my humility. I can sense Summers' excitement before shi even enters the room. Shi tries to sneak in without me noticing but I am staring right at hir as shi rounds the doorway. Shi is holding something close to hir body and I can't see what it is. Shi approaches me very slowly and then I see it... "CRAP!" It's a camcorder and Shi is recording my nakedness in full living color! I quickly sit up to reach down for the bed sheet. I am suddenly stopped in mid-motion by an intense stabbing pain from deep within my body. Summer sees my expression suddenly turn to pain and quickly puts the camera down as shi comes to my side. I can hardly breathe. The pain stabs me with every breath. Summer helps lower me back down and I can start to breathe cautiously again. "What the hell was that?" I whisper.
Summer pushes the button near the bed and soon doctor Windsong walks in and sees my expression. "What? I can't leave you two alone for 10 minutes without you getting frisky! I told you it would be a while before you are ready for that kind of activity! Give it a chance to heal," shi says with a coy smile.
"Oh give me a break!" I snarl.
"Okay then… tell me what happened." Shi says in a more serious tone. I start to talk but Summer cuts in, "Shi sat up suddenly and hurt hirself." The doctor looks down toward my shaved belly and gently touches a point about half way up my right side. There is a sharp pain and I wince from the touch.
"Well that's just wonderful. I go through all the trouble of opening you up and piecing you back together again and you go and mess up my fine work. It would serve you right if you did fracture one of your ribs again… but I'm sure you were just noticing that the muscles down there haven't healed yet. I had to work on you for quite a while and just being opened up for that long is very hard on your body. Oh, and if you hear something at about 5:15 PM, let me know. I am still looking for my wristwatch."
"What!" I say quickly.
"Oh, I'm just kidding about the watch, but your stomach muscles still have healing to do and they will be sore for a while. You shouldn't do anything that hurts just yet. We'll save that for the physical therapy later."
"Well thank you, I can hardly wait for that," I say, then I get a thought and it starts turning into a feeling of dread. "What if I have to go to the bathroom? I don't think I can stand up yet. What'll I do?"
The doctor reaches under the bed and produces a large steel pan. "This is a bedpan. You can go in here when you need to."
"But doc, I don't think I can reach down there, it hurts too much."
"Just push the button and a nurse will come in and help you," the doctor says.
"Well that sounds like something I'd like to learn in medical school," I say sarcastically to hide my dread. It seems that the hospital's main function is to bring people to new heights of extreme embarrassment, discomfort… and poverty. It allows the patients to explore their outer boundaries of tolerance, humility, and credit!" I think to my self.
"Doctor Windsong, When do you think shi can go home?" Summer asks. The doctor has a thoughtful look for a moment then answers.
"Well I haven't really talked to Bluestripe about this yet but now is a good time," shi turns to look at me with a distinctly serious expression, "As you have noticed, you are still recovering. This will take some time but you don't need to be in here too much longer. It's Monday now and I think you should be able to leave by Thursday or Friday. This may be a problem because you might need a wheelchair for a while. You will also need physical therapy at least once a day to assure that your muscles heal correctly. This can be performed at your home by a therapist, assuming that there is someone there to help. All of your wounds are healing extremely well and I foresee no complications or permanent after-effects, other than your tail of course."
Summer leans over and with a smile says, "We are all hoping that you will come and stay with us while you recover. We can help with the physical therapy and anything else that you need."
It seems like years ago that I was back at our pad with Red. We had packed and quickly headed off to the Grand Canyon, fully expecting to come back and continue our life together. I couldn't stand being home alone without Red. The emptiness would drive me mad. Eventually I will have to go back to clean up everything and continue with life. When that day comes, I will need all of my strength and all of my friends. For now, I need Summer, Crystal and Thunder to help me get to that point. "Thank you Summer, I accept your offer gratefully and I'll try not to be too much of a pain in the butt to everyone."
"Done!" Shi says cheerfully.
Windsong says "That should work out best. There is only so much that a hospital atmosphere can do to help with the emotional healing."
"Nobody likes to be alone in the hospital. We'll be here for you as long as you are in the hospital and when you can leave, you can come home with us," Summer says happily.
"Thank you for keeping me sane. You, Crystal and Thunder have given me your strength and your love. They are fueling my recovery more than anything else," I say thankfully. The rest of the day goes by quickly.
Red has my hand in hirs as we walk along an old dirt road that leads down to a secluded stream. We have come here many times to enjoy the solitude and comfort of nature. The warm summer wind blows gently through the cattails while the sun warms our backs. Red reaches over and gently swats at some of the cattails releasing a flurry of flying silken seeds. They swirl all around us as they slowly blow away. I run ahead to the little meadow while Red gives chase. The grass is green and cool as we sit next to the running water. Circular shaped pools formed in the rocks by thousands of years of erosion sing to us an irresistible invitation to enjoy their cool depths. Red pulls off hir T-shirt and jumps in. I am quick to follow. The chill of the water startles me…
I wake up shivering, confused and disappointed. My blanket is on the floor and my furless skin is exposed to the cold hospital air. I look around as I slowly realize where I am. It's Thursday morning at last. I'm very tired and un-rested but my wounds are feeling much better. Some pain still causes me to move around cautiously on my bed. I can now handle the bedpan by myself but the nurse still has to finish the chore. I am anxious to leave this place and get some fresh air and peace of mind. The hospital is not a place where anyone with a heightened empathic ability can find solace. Being surrounded by sick and injured people has wreaked havoc on my senses. I have been trying to deal with my own loss and pain, while the pain of other patients has influenced my sleep. I can sense that there is a foxtaur on the other side of the wall who was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street. He just came in yesterday and is still in a lot of pain. I realize now what mental hell I must have inflicted on the patients when I first arrived. Luckily my days went by quickly enough.
Summer and Thunder are staying in a hotel near the hospital while Crystal had to go home to make arrangements. They come over every day and we keep each other company while I recover. I need the distraction or else I am right back reliving history with Red. We have spent many hours talking and getting to know each other better.
Summer is a Communications Technologist who maintains part of the global communications system. Shi does whatever is needed to maintain, upgrade, and repair of one of the most complicated communications networks ever created by known technology. Hir profession is considered a public safety priority and shi must travel extensively in hir duties. Shi has very high security clearance for a civilian due to hir access to classified data transmissions. Shi has a commercial pilot's license and is certified in Zero-grav Pressure Suits. Hir department has several shuttles which shi uses to travel to jobsites and orbiting Com satellites. Thunder is a journalist for a technology library site and works from home most of the time. Crystal is a marine biologist and shi works for the government funded Endangered Species Reintroduction Program. Shi used to spend a lot of time in the water but now shi works under water at the Miami Sub-Surface Oceanography Research Center. This is a large underwater facility just off the coast of Old Miami. Hir current project involves a breeding program for endangered species and the genomic coding of extinct specimens. Shi has told me that working there is kind of like working in a space vessel, you can't go outside without a pressure suit and there are airlocks on all corridors. Shi likes it though because, in hir words: "You can spend all day in a different and beautiful universe and still go home every night."
It is still too early for visiting hours when a woman in a Federation Special Forces uniform walks in. She is average height with an attractive body. Her red hair is neatly tucked under her cap. Although she looks like she could turn quite a few heads, she has a professionalism about her that seems to wash away any hint of femininity. I can sense her thoughts as being rigidly analytical and focused only on the task at hand.
"Sergeant Artemis Bluestripe, I am Lieutenant Jones from the Internal Affairs Office. Are you feeling well enough to speak with me?"
I make an effort to sit up a little as I say, " Uh… Sure. I.A. huh? What did I do this time?"
She pulls up a chair and sits close to me. "We heard that you would be released later today. We are still investigating the incident and I have some updated information for you. The remaining members of your Team have all returned to the base and are recovering well. Your status on the Team has been modified to 'Active Reserve' and you can expect to have a couple of months off before you will be asked to report for duty. The Federation is willing to work with you to make you as comfortable as possible in your recovery. Your pay will continue to be credited to your account and any special needs will be addressed quickly. We will be tracking your recovery. Your living quarters on base are being held for you until your return. Your doctor has informed me that you are planning to stay with your family in the Old Florida district. Is this correct?"
"Yes, that's correct. I will be staying with them in Old Miami," I say with a tone of resolve. She continues, "That is fine. When you arrive there you will need to check in with your command to arrange for therapy and checkups. If you travel more than 100 miles, you will need to check in also."
"What is this? Why do I have to check in if I travel? Have I done something wrong?" I say as my guard goes up.
"No, you haven't done anything wrong but honestly, if you weren't so badly injured you would have been returned back to the base with the others." She says with a slight hint of impudence. "We have had… problems with some of the members of your Team, and even a few others on different Teams. They have expressed a sincere desire to locate and eliminate every person connected to the terrorism attack. We cannot allow this highly trained Force to become the Federation's lynch mob. I assure you that we are using every resource to actively track down those who have conspired in this and other atrocities. We are making progress but we have a long way to go. Please understand that this attack will not go unpunished but for now the battle is in the hands of the Office of Intelligence."
I am speechless for a few moments while I soak it all in. "I understand," is all I can say.
"A member of the Special Training Office may call on you to discuss any injuries to your empathic talents. Do you have any questions?"
I think a moment then say, "Uh, yes I do… Could you empty the bedpan for me? It's getting a little ripe."
She stands up quickly. I can sense her disgust as she marches out of the room. "I think my empathic talents are working quite well," I say to myself.
"Good morning Artemis. Today's the big day." Doctor Windsong says as shi walks in pushing a wheelchair. "I'm happy to see that you are healing up as well as I had hoped you would. I just finished all of your paperwork and you are free to go when you like. You can use this wheelchair around the hospital but you will have to rent yourself one when you get home." This particular wheelchair is designed as a sort of rolling cushion with a support on the end and retractable side rails. The patient can choose whatever position is most comfortable.
"Great! Can you help me into it? I want to get out of this room ASAP! I need to get some real fresh air," I say excitedly. Shi pushes the wheelchair closer as I start sitting up. The twisting motion of my upper body is relatively painless. My arm and leg are feeling better than I expected however they ache constantly. My head aches but it is not the typical headache. It feels as if I had bumped it on something a while ago and received a lump. My lower body is still the main problem. I can't hardly twist or bend it without a sharp stabbing pain in my ribs. Windsong helps me slide onto the wheelchair and now I am ready.
"I can push you into the lobby but then I must return to my other patients. I want you to know how pleased I am at your recovery and I wish you the best out in the Old Florida area," shi says as shi wheels me out the door.
My mind has been starving for new input and my eyes drink up the new sights. All eyes are on me as we travel to the main lobby. I can sense the puzzlement in people's minds as they look at me. I know all too well how odd I look and I start feeling a little embarrassed. We arrive in the lobby about five minutes before visiting hours officially start. Thunder and Summer are already waiting to pick me up. We all say our goodbyes to the doctor and the mood is surprisingly somber as they wheel me out to the PTV. As we pull away from the Hospital and head toward the airport, I feel that I am now embarking on a whole new direction in life. I have been thinking almost non-stop the last several days. I have toured my complete range of emotions. I have revisited pains long subdued and I have gained strength from them.
The death of my parents, the death of Red and the others on my team, The death of the innocent chakat hostages, and especially the death of the thirteen month old baby; these are all bleeding wounds on my soul. They have started to fester and their corruption demands release. Somewhere in a dark corner of my mind, I have surrendered to the pain. I have acknowledged to myself that I must do something. I won't explore the options just yet but I have gained some strength and comfort in knowing that I will do something.
To be continued in Part 3.
Return to the main story index page.