Thursday, 02 October 2008 00:07

Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place (Part 9)

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Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place - Part 9

By Renae

[Note the author does not speak Italian, or any other languages, so apart from a few words here and there all dialog will be in English. You may however presume that it is what ever language you feel comfortable with. Special thanks to Warren for providing taxi ride experiences in Italy, and a bunch of other insanity. (Yes some of it really is his fault! :) And Maggie for help with Saul.]

 

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

Breakfast was more of the same sludge in a sports jug along with the tube-food, though I was allowed to eat as many M&M’s as I could tolerate… provided I picked them up from out the bowl with two fingers. It sounds easier that it was to do, my fingers kept forgetting what they were doing at times or they would spasm and or send the M&M in question sailing across the room as the brain arms, hands etcetera crossed signals. Fortunately or unfortunately, forks and such were not on the addenda yet as I was still plugged into the feeder lines and while I could get my fingers and M&M’s to my mouth the process was still difficult.

“This sucks,” I said as my third M&M missile in a row bounced across the table.

“So how are the cramps today?” asked Leigh as she planted a kiss on my head before stealing a handful of M&M’s.

Last night I had awoken in a knot of spasming muscles, everything had decided that three am was the perfect time to go into twitches then into painful cramps. Between Leigh and CJ and a lot of heat packs they managed to get me out of the inverse fetal position that the cramps had pulled my body into. I didn’t think possible that a body could cramp up in that position, but I immediately ranked it up there on my list of things to avoid ever again if at all possible.

“I’m ok,” I said after I yawned.

 “You are pretty quiet today,” she said after a few M&M’s.

“More of the s-s-s-ame ahead,” I said and then sighed, “and slight-t-t-ly depress-s-s-sed.”

“Well if all goes well you should be able to go outside today,” she rolled her eyes and added, “apart from some ego clashes, the spell umbrella is actually getting enlarged.”

“Ah,” I said as I wrestled with another M&M.

“Ok, what is really bothering you?” she asked after removing the mixing bowl from my lap, and then she took my hands and started massaging them.

“Chaddy, is gone isn’t he?” I asked as she rubbed my fingers and palm.

“Yes and no,” stated Alicia as looked up from a couch where she was reading.

“Which?” I asked and suppressed a groan as Leigh found a sore spot in my hand and worked on it.

“Kellith and her dad pulled the remnants of Chaddy out of you, they say that they saved the best parts of him.” Alicia walked over and knelt down beside my wheel chair, “But they said he was diminished, and that he is roughly six years old in mentality now.”

“Ouch,” I said as a wave of depression washed over me.

“Kellith said that he’s running around with Gary for the time being,” she looked at me in curiosity, “she said you would know?”

I thought for a moment and nodded, “Gary was s-s-someone she ‘s-s-saved’ when he was k-k-illed trying to help her.”

“But he is not exactly alive?” asked Leigh as she started on my other hand.

“He’s waiting on Sara to be his m-m-o-mommy,” I said with a smile, “she made a prom-m-m-mise to him.”

“So in time you will see Chaddy again, in the flesh?” asked Alicia with a pleased smile.

“Yes-s-s,” I said with a sigh as I felt around internally for Sara’s mark, “how come I d-d-d-don’t sen-s-s-e Sara s-s-so much?”

“She said it has to do with overstressing one place in time and space too much.” Alicia rolled her eyes and said, “They want the area to stabilize a few more days. With all the daemons getting sent back from the area, Saul’s behavior correction and from the energies spent in your return from the beyond; they are wanting to be sure a rift will not form.”

“Rifts bad?” I asked after reconnecting to Italian in my head.

“It depends on the people who work magicks in the proximity to one,” explained Rose who chose that moment to walk into view. “Normally, people with goodwill and good intentions will not attract the attention of ‘bad things.’ The problem with rifts stems from when you have people who seek out such areas to exploit them, and eventually they will attract unpleasant things.”

“Ugh,” I said as it made an odd sort of sense.

“As it is we’ll have to move some power intensive rituals and other training groups to a different lodge to ease the magickal load on the area.” Rose shrugged and added, “As we add in the new construction and renovations and we would have to have throttled back some as it was.”

“They don’t want to freak the Norms too much,” said Leigh with a giggle, “most construction crews tend to blink when a naked lady runs by.”

“Or when you walk up to them and ask if there is a virgin in their crew, as your evening’s sacrifice could not make it that evening,” added Alicia with a laugh.

I laughed briefly and blinked in mock amazement, “There are v—v-r-virgins in Kellith’s Cult?”

“We do have a few eccentrics in the cult that are ‘saving themselves’ for just the tight person. Err, right person,” Alicia rolled her eyes, “we don’t force anyone to participate or to have sex, peoples bodies are their own after all.”

I suppressed a groan as CJ walked into the room, “It’s time to suffer some more.”

“Ugh,” I said and turned on the puppy-dog eyes, “no?”

“But yes, I insist,” CJ said as he walked over to my chair and unlocked its wheels, “today I force you to crawl and if you are really unlucky I will teach you how to stand up as well.”

I did my best to put a whimper in my begging as I looked at the others, “S-s-save me?” Dammutt gave me what appeared to be a snicker as he sat up and started begging in the same manner, but he at least got a cookie.

CJ snickered and said as he wheeled me away, “There is no escape young Skywalker.”

 

“Ok, now like all infants or people trying to relearn to walk, you must master the ability to go from your back to your stomach,” CJ paused and looked down at me where I lay on the mat, “I suggest you do not slam yourself belly first to the matt, take it slowly as you still have the connections for the feeder lines in your abdomen.”

“F-f-fun and this ac-c-complishes what?” I asked as I lay there.

“It will give you more upper arm strength, and it reawakens your abdomen, neck, upper and lower back muscles somewhat,” he smiled mirthlessly, “once I see how you are doing we’ll add pushups, crunches, twists, and weights.”

“S-s-so how long?” I asked dreading the answer.

“Until I get tired,” he said simply, “or until you have muscle failure, then I will let you recover and or eat as needed.”

“Oh j-j-joy,” I muttered at him.

He reached down to the whistle that hung from a necklace, “Don’t make me use the whistle on you.”

“P-p-per-rish the th-thought,” I said with a glower.

“Start with two repetitions of front to back, take a minute break, then do four, another minute and then eight,” he shrugged “we’ll see how you take it.”

 

‘Tweet’ went the whistle and I stopped to slump with my back to the mat, “Oh j-j-just k-k-kill me now.”

     “What?” he asked with a grin, “I know some Marines who can not turn out as many baby sit ups as you can.”

I reached up with one hand in a fist, and then I forced my other hand to reach up and raise one finger on that fist in his direction.

“You’re looking a bit shaky with that bird,” he walked over and handed me another of those vile shake jugs, “drink up.”

I took a moment to clear my mind of Chinese curse words and asked him, “Have you t-t-tasted this crap?”

“Yes, and if you manage to learn how to crawl by dinner time I’ll start to put sweeteners in it,” he smiled wickedly, “or even the flavorings.”

I gave him an indignant look, “You b-bub-bast-bastard!”

“Drink up, I made lots,” he said with a smirk.

“Even Damutt won’t d-d-d-drink this c-c-c-crap,” I muttered in protest at him.

“Smart dog.”

 

“Cramps are gods way of telling your muscles work,” said CJ as he and Leigh worked my body back out of the rigid twist the spasms had locked me into.

“D-d-drugs,” I begged with a whimper, “hurts.”

CJ his face down by mine for a moment and looked into my eyes and asked, “What is more important, earlier revenge on the bastard that brought this upon you or the relief from pain?”

I forced myself to contrast the two and decided I could try a bit longer, “R-revenge.”

He nodded and patted me on the head before returning to the massage. “You should try to rest a bit anyways, just let us get you loosened back up and some heat on you. Once we get you turned over it’s forced break time for more tube-food.”

“Can’t you give her a muscle relaxer?” Leigh asked as they worked.

“I could but she’d likely lose a day or more as the drug K-O’ed her; its documented in her medical files, her body hyper-reacts to medications.” He sighed and added, “If the need were not so great I would work her half a day and let her rest until the next day or every other day.”

“S-s-s-sucks to be me,” I mumbled around a groan.

 

“Normally I would force you to scoot around on our belly for a time, dragging your legs behind you.” CJ paused and pushed the mechanic’s creeper around with a foot on the floor in front of me, “However with the feeder lines hooked into your stomach that would be a problem. So you get to use this.”

“Can’t I just crawl?” I asked feeling a bit put upon.

“We’ll see how you do,” he looked at me and said, “we’re retraining your brain, making it reconnect to forgotten skills. Creeping is a skill all babies learn before crawling.”

I sighed and eased the creeper under me, “G-g-g-great I get to s-s-see the fl-floor at a whole n-n-new angle.”

“Just go from one end of the room to the other, then rest a minute and repeat,” he said simply.

Dammutt in his cute puppy sized form decided that this was of course the ideal height for me to be in, and he demonstrated it by licking my face, neck and ears. After a few moments of puppy abuse CJ finally picked him up, “Now creep or I sic the puppy on you.”

I wiped the puppy slobber off of my face, “You are evil.”

“Yes, yes I am.”

 

“Long ways Petra.”

 

“No licky! No licky!”

 

“Why is Dammutt riding?” asked CJ with a laugh.

“It was either t-t-that or chas-s-se him with a s-s-stick,” I said with a sigh.

“I see, carry on.”

 

“It’s not a basketball court, you should be able to fly down to the wall touch it and fly back.”

“You ar-r-re not t-t-t-the one with a hund-d-d-dred puh-pounds on your back,” I retorted.

“It’s that light? Here,” there was a clank as CJ placed another mass of weights on the creeper with me, “there you go, fixed.”

“O-o-oh f-f-f-f-f,” I grumbled as I failed to get out what I felt like saying and then sighed.

“Yes I love you too, in an oddly Catholic kind of way,” he quickly replied and my look of disgust turned into laugher. After a moment he said,  “When you can breath again, begin.”

 

“Is there life under all those heat packs?” asked Leigh as she massaged my left arm.

“No, no life here,” I said with a semi-contented sigh.

“Just think, after lunch you can start on crawling for real,” said CJ as he worked on the other arm.

“She’s so quiet all of a sudden,” Leigh said with a chuckle.

“N-n-not quiet, t-t-trying t-t-to convert s-s-s-swear words from Chinese to Italian,” I said with a disgusted sigh, “but I l-l-l-lack the Italian words.”

CJ paused and patted my head and said, “Love you too,” which prompted a set of giggles from me.

“I’m missing something here I think,” said Leigh as she poked me with a finger.

“In an od-d-d-dly Catholic kind-d-d of way…” I mumbled contentedly.

She giggled for a moment, “Ah I see.”

 

After lunch I was back in the gym but I was also wearing kneepads and gloves, and of all things a small pillow duct-taped to my belly under my t-shirt. Evidently the pillow was his version of crash protection, should my arms and legs give out in the process of things. Needless to say the thought that he was sure I was going to need it was worrisome.

“Ok Petra, we are going to start out very slow here, of which you will still hate me for.” CJ grinned as he motioned for me to roll over, “On your hands and knees.”

“Joy,” I muttered, as I was able to look at the floor from a bit higher.

 “Head up, you have to look and see where you are going,” he instructed.

“I’ve seen it’s boring,” I countered.

“Yes but you need to build up your neck muscles some more, so look up when you crawl.” CJ smirked and walked over to CD player and pressed a button, “This CD is my crawler special, the tune you will die to destroy is called, ‘The Baby Elephant Walk.’”

It had a fairly catchy beat, so I waited for the punch line. So I was stuck looking up at him for a long moment before I asked the burning question in my mind, “So now what?”

“Well,” he said with a grin, “put one arm out in front of you, lean on it, put the opposite knee up under your abdomen, lean on it, rinse and repeat with the other arm and leg. When the music stops you can stop.”

“Lovely,” I muttered and tried to put his instructions into practice.

 

“Left arm, right knee and pause,” CJ said calmly once my temper settled back down to where I was speaking and understanding Italian, “left arm, right knee and pause.”

 

 “Nice face plant, it is time for a break I think,” said CJ thoughtfully as I scowled at him.

“Ya t-th-th-think?” I asked angrily as he handed me yet another bottle of toxic sludge from hell.

“Yes.”

 

“You should be moving faster I think,” CJ said with a chuckle.

“No, I like this speed,” I said carefully as I rounded a cone on the floor.

He walked over to the door and opened it, “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war,” he called out to the next room. Soon there was the sound of tiny running feet and Dammutt scrabbled rapidly into the room sounding like a stampede of one. Dammutt gave him a tiny yapp of happiness as CJ scratched his ears, “Now Dammutt, I happen to know there are peanut butter cookies to be had somewhere in the building, if you want one, I need you to lick Petra every time she slows down.”

“You B-bub-bastard!” I said as I sat up abruptly, “No fair!”

 

“No Lic-c-c-cky!”

 

“Head up!” CJ said as he paced the room.

Growling I lifted my head and neck which had a string of weights draped over them, “Hea-d-d up your-r-r-r…”

“Less swearing, more movement or I sic the puppy on you again,” he paused and said, “at this rate Dammutt will eat all the cookies before you can get even one.”

 

“I get-t-t it-t the foot-t-bub-ball helmet was just so you could p-pup-put more weight on my back and neck,” I said sourly as he did just that.

“Well we can’t have you breaking your nose on them when you face plant onto them again, can we?” he asked with a dry laugh.

“My poor nose.”

 

“Screaming tantrum of utter rage, check, right on schedule… but breaking your arm will not get you out of physical therapy,” he said as he splinted it. “You can sit here and regenerate awhile while I make a phone call.”

I gave the wall I hit a glare as it barely had a dent in the drywall, “I hit a st-t-tstud?”

“Evidently, here have a jug and cookie, I figure it’ll be healed by the time I get back,” he said as he handed the bilge from the crypt to me, along with a large peanut butter cookie.

 

“Ok well the good news is no more weights, the bad news is I think you are suffering from Regen Induced Osteoporosis or RIO for short,” CJ paused and looked at the other faces in the room. “Its not uncommon in regenerators according to Dr. Otto. While the your body was able to replace all the bones in your body, and do it so rapidly; your body lacked the materials to do it correctly.”

“S-s-so?” I asked simply, as I was sure he had a plan.

“I’m waiting on a portable X-ray and Bone-Densitometer to be shipped in before I can confirm the diagnosis,” he shrugged and said, “the X-ray will get here sooner, and I can confirm the preliminary diagnosis with a series of shots.”

“What’s the Bone-Densitometer for?” asked the Signora calmly.

“It will tell me how heavy or light her bones are with calcium,” CJ paused and calmly said, “bones are like a honeycomb to some extent, either filled and solid or empty. The more the cells are filled the stronger the bone, I know it is a poor analogy but it is easier to follow if explained that way.”

“Ok,” I said as I ignored what I knew of hexagons.

“Part of the problem is that this is your second major regeneration in less than a month,” he said simply as he looked at everyone, “and her body did not have the stores of resources to pull off all that it did do.”

I focused on each word to make it clear, “So now what?”

“We up your calcium intake, and when the X-ray and Densitometer gets here we’ll take a lot of shots, before and after moderate doses of calcium.” He paused and said, “The problem is too much calcium can cause hyperglycemia, and among other things it can interfere with the absorption of other important minerals.”

   “What does that mean for her in the long run?” asked the Knight Marshall.

“At the longest it may take a year for her body to get enough calcium in all the bones to make up for the regenerations.” CJ paused as he looked at me carefully, “Or longer, but with luck we can push that down to maybe six months three if we find a good regimen. A dietary regimen that will not endanger your health that is, the feeder tubes will make it easy to give you concentrated bursts of calcium for the tests.”

 “Oh good-dy,” I said with a groan.

“But it doesn’t mean you will get out of learning to walk,” he paused at my rude injunction, “but we have to focus on teaching you how to fall properly at the same time. It’ll save on broken bones and pain, even though you’d likely be fine after a few minutes of bracing them and rest.” He pointed at my recently unbraced arm, “Case in point.”

“So she would still be able to search the Rose Palace as long as there was no risk of combat?” asked the Knight Marshall as he looked at me. “Once she is walking that is.”

“Yes,” said CJ calmly as he looked at him, “as long as she keeps to the elevators and not the stairs, she should be able to handle it.”

I reviewed what I remembered of the lay out, and slowly said, “There are six stairs to the landing on the first floor.”

“Don’t worry we can get you trained for that,” said CJ with a dry smile as he motioned for me roll out ahead of him, “but you will still hate it.” 

“I know, I know.”

 

CJ had buckled me into a corset-like harness that was attached to a climbers sling as well. The cable connected to it ran up to a pulley and electronic winch system that hung suspended over a set of parallel bars. Easing me to a crouch he slowly raised the winch until I was touching the floor with my toes.

“Ok, hand there for a moment and tell me if its unbearable,” CJ instructed as he walked over to pick up a large blue disk and a set of half-spheres. When he returned he screwed a small half-sphere onto the bottom of it, “Still good?”

“Yeah I guess,” I said as I swung there slightly.

I watched as he eased it directly under my feet, “This is a BAPS board, AKA the Biomechanical Ankle Platform System board. It is used to build up the muscles in your ankles and calves. Right now its on the smallest ball, the principle of use is easy, you stand on one foot and make the edges of the disk go around and around on the floor.”

“Ok,” I said as I gave it an experimental attempt at rotation.

“One minute of spinning, then rest, switch foot, spin again, repeat.” He smiled and said, “When you can do it unconsciously I’ll roll in the TV and DVD player again since you are going to be there awhile.”

“And t-th-this helps me t-t-t-to learn how to s-s-stand?” I asked critically.

“Muscle memory, tendons warmed up and reawakened, knees and such all at the same time,” CJ smiled slightly and said, “right now I have all but ten percent of your weight on your feet.”

“Meaning its gonna suck at one hundred percent?” I asked slowly as he nodded before I could finish.

“It would be a faster process if I could safely get away with loading you up with weights again,” he shook his head slowly and said, “but I do not want you to snap your bones if you flex wrong.”

“So that is why?” I asked as he started nodding unhappily.

“Yup, but don’t think you are getting out of training your muscles up,” he said casually as he tapped his watch, “it will still happen but it will take longer.”

“J-j-oy,” I muttered.

“Time starts, now!” he said joyfully.

 

“Wax on, wax off, one spin one direction, one spin the other direction, switch feet, and repeat.” CJ handed me a new canister of sewer sludge to drink, “Enjoy.”

I had to work past the Chinese curses and speak slowly, “Oh look it’s the new and improved sludge, now with more chalk flavoring.”

“Admit it you like it don’t you?” he said ducking out of swiping range.

“No.”

 

“CJ I need to stop.”

“No, keep turning the disk.”

“CJ I gotta stop.”

“Why?”

“I got-t-t-ta pee.”

“Can’t get down on your own can you?”

“Ha, ha, I got-t-ta pee.”

“And if I poke you here?”

“B-b-bub-bub-bastard…”

 

“Ok, now we move the half sphere under the disk to a new position and you get do it all again,” CJ said as he lifted the disk up to show me the odd spiral of positions on it. “It forces the muscles to flex differently and work harder.”

I hung there in a slump letting my voice take on the same pitch and inflection as Eyore’s, “I am thrilled, really.”

“Be happy you are at not holding yourself up by your arms and doing this yet,” CJ ginned at my groan, “oh yes there is more pain ahead.”

 

“CRAMP!” I gasped out as my body decided it hated me again.

“Hang in there I’m coming,” he said as he hurried over.

“All I can do…” I whimpered.

 

“Mas-s-s-age gooood, sludge bad.”

 

Monday, 11 December, 2006

By lunch I had ‘graduated’ to the largest ball on the BAPS board and at my own body weight, though I was stuck in the hoist harness yet as my balance still sucked. Rather than let a captive audience hang around spinning their wheels; the Knight Marshall earlier had me staring at the floor plans of the Rose Palace. Not that I needed to stare long, but the notes that went along with what should be in each office took awhile to digest.

Enough of the ‘local’ Knights had been recovered that we had at least one person who could add input into what each room should hold. When Father Pete had said some of the Knights were a bit ‘Anal Retentive’ or ‘detail observant’ he was not joking too much. I had enough lists in my head such that if I worked for CSI Rome, that I could almost pin down each person by their mess or lack their of.

On the up shod they had put drones into the Rose Palace on every floor they could access by stairs. So every room that could be visually swept for occupants was and everything recorded and analyzed unto death for oddities. Which left over eighty percent of the building a big question mark, though we knew for certain the building was currently empty.

 The other certainty we had noted, and that I added my own bits to; was that someone had made off with my belongings. That and a door I was positively certain should have been open, was currently closed. This lead to much speculation, and the insertion of a bomb-sensing drone into the building to investigate the closed door with explosive results; well explosive in that someone had left a bomb connected to the door.

“We’ve marked off a few more areas for you to avoid,” said the Knight Marshall as he affixed red dots to the maps.

“More bombs?” I asked quietly.

“That and we managed to poke a few holes into the ceiling and peer down into them, ruling them out as the possible contagion sources,” he paused and shook his head, “we managed to clear the booby trap without surprises.”

“Ah good,” I paused and regained my balance only to start spinning the disk again. “I am sorry this is taking so long.”

“Nonsense, were pushing things as it is, one of which being your recovery,” the Knight Marshall turned to study me a moment, “you have bulked up some, which will help you to recover and frustrate you.”

“Oh?” I asked as I glanced at myself briefly, “I’ve not noticed.”

“Your Italian is better too,” he noted as he turned back to the boards.

“I’m bored and not excited or exasperated,” I said with a sigh, “pain and stress do not help me to speak clearly.”

“Yes, you are not fluid or quick with it yet though,” he observed quietly as he glanced back to me, “people may mistake you for being mentally deficit, expect it, and do not allow it to cloud your practice or judgement.”

“Oh great, more, more ass-s-sholes talk-king?” I said with a glower at his back.

“I am sure Father Pete has told you of the two factions within the Knights?” he asked as he continued to paste dots.

“Yes,” I said sourly and stopped to switch feet. 

“Since we are a martial organization there is a third sub-set or mentality if you will,” he said as he stopped and turned to look at me again, “those that think; ‘if you are not at one hundred percent ability or better, you need to be behind a desk, not in the field.’”

I paused to take a pointed look down at his shorts and the prosthetic he was wearing, “S-s-s-so that is why you have on s-s-shorts today?”

“Yes,” he paused and then said, “that and I have been pausing to soak in the hot spring some too.”

“Ah,” I said and resumed turning the board.

“I also invited the loudest of offenders to a short therapy session guided by Doc CJ, he’s out there making them suffer for an hour.” The Knight Marshall smiled thoughtfully, “Just a small taste of what you have put up with these past few days.”

“Ha, is anyone taping it?” I asked with a grin.

“No,” he looked at me and nodded as he tapped his arms, “part of being a leader is not allowing things to fester or at least trying to keep things from festering. The other part is to make sure people know their places, and to ensure there are boundaries.”

I considered that for a moment, “So what is my place?”

“Well there in lies the problem,” he paced back and forth slightly for a moment, “I would be lying if I said there were not people who think we could be and should be rid of you in any way possible.”

I snorted and shook my head, and then I grabbed the bars for balance, “Yeah, I’ve heard about them.”

“Bethany was not a Knight before Saturday, and she tried to be rid of you too,” the Knight Commander shook his head, “not that I don’t need more Knights I do, but the material I have to work with in her is very rough.”

“I thought she was fairly sharp myself,” I said with a groan, “pun not intended.”

“What, oh yes she did stab you didn’t she?” He shook off the need for an answer and continued, “Needless to say your placement is going to be tricky over the next few years.”

“I would give you the ring back if I could,” I said sincerely as I made the disk revolve.

“I’ll bet, still you did take down one daemon with nothing more than knife and pistol, and nearly stopped two others by yourself as well, one prior to coming here and one on the night you got tore up.” He chuckled and shook his head, “Not that you need to watch that recording, its pretty violent and gruesome.”

“I’ve been told that,” I said trying not to feel too depressed over it.

“Frankly my biggest problem with you, will likely come from needing ten of you and only having the one of you.” He paused to sigh, “That and I need you trained and not stumbling out to die unprepared.”

“Which is what I am doing, sort of,” I said as I swapped feet.

“You survived for the most part,” he said with smile, “of which has a few folks worried I assure you. If I can keep you from getting killed due to ‘less than enthusiastic’ support and other knifes in the chest or back for a few years…”

“I’d prefer to live without stab wounds myself,” I inserted as he gathered his thoughts.  

“… You will likely gain enough support or experience to keep yourself whole.” The Knight Marshall nodded as he looked at the BAPS board and then me, “I think once this mess is done you are going to be placed on medical restricted duty, mostly because Doc CJ says you will need it, secondly to make sure you get more training, thirdly I plan on keeping you if not out of sight, then busy.”

“Oh, busy doing what?” I asked as I regained my balance.

“I have a few ideas, but this current mess needs to be resolved first.” He paused to study me again, “I think you are trembling too much, rest I’ll send CJ in to let you down. He says he should have you walking by dinner with luck.”

“That is the plan,” I said with a sigh.

 

‘Just put one foot in front of the other, and soon you will be walking out the door’, rung musically out from the CD player at the far end of the parallel bars where I hung with from the hoist. Considering the evil nature of CJ, I was doomed to be listening to his ‘motivational music’ for the rest of the day. I had tried short out his CD player and succeeded, but he had plenty of spares or so he warned me.

“Right,” he said more to himself as he then looked at me, “now you are going to be learning what I call, positional walking for a time.” He ducked under the bars and stood just out of kicking range, “It is going to look and feel funny for a while but this is pure bio-mechanics.”

“If you say so,” I muttered at him and gave an experimental attempt at a kick in his direction and missed.

“Kicking comes into it but not that hard,” he chided as he took a half step backwards out of reach. “Ok, watch me as I go through it. Right heel up, knee up lifting the foot off of the floor, give a tiny kick and drop the heel back to the floor at the same time. Then roll forward on the foot, slowly placing your weight on it fully.”

I gave his four inch ‘step’ a dubious look, “That’s a mighty big step you have there partner.”

“Yeah it is, believe it or not,” CJ said as he returned his feet back to parallel with each other. “We’re going to be repeating this baby step over and over on each foot, going back to the start position, like I am standing now.”

“So how long do I do this?” I asked as I watched him repeat his ‘step’ for me.

“As long as it takes.”

 

Three hours later and my world had narrowed down two rails, my feet and the floor between the rails. I was still doing baby steps, but I was doing them with my full weight and I was sweating rivers. My balance still sucked majorly as did my speed, though CJ kept telling me I was doing well. Well compared to what I had no idea, as it seemed like an infant had better speed than I did.

 “Lift, drop, roll, lift, drop and roll,” chanted CJ quietly as I pushed on.

“Easy for you to s-s-say,” I muttered as I kept on.

“Three feet more,” was his calm reply as he tapped my bum with a yardstick.

CJ had taken to tapping the ‘offending’ joint as his way of reminding me to follow the pattern he had given me. Frankly I was going to wait for him to look the wrong way, steal the damned thing and gleefully break it into bits. Even if he had spares.

Step, roll, step, I went as he counted off the remaining feet, “Two feet.” What felt like an hour later it was one foot, then six inches, and finally he said, “Look up and smile.” Numbly I did as he requested and was rewarded by a flash of light as he took a picture of me standing there. 

“What?” I asked he stood there beaming at me.

“You likely will not appreciate this now, but you just hit a major land mark in your recovery,” he said as he smiled at me and then eased the wheel chair over. “You just walked twenty-five feet under your own power, without falling.”

“At a s-s-snails pace,” I said sourly as the sweat beaded and dripped off of me.

“It will get harder and yet easier as your muscles grow stronger,” CJ paused and said, “but you can see there is light at the end of the tunnel now can’t you?”

I smiled mirthlessly at him, “Yeah and I b-bet it is a f-f-freight t-t-train.”

“May-be,” he said with a chuckle, “but you will meet it on your own two feet.”

“J-joy,” I said as he eased me into the wheelchair.

“But for now, you need more tube-food, rest and as you so quaintly call it, ‘stuff in a jug,’” he said with a chuckle.

“Th-th-that’s not what I c-c-call it,” I said as he passed me a towel.

“Yes I know,” he said as he picked up a jug and handed it to me, “drink up we have more to do today.”

 

“Just go as fast as you can, if you stumble the harness with catch you,” he said as he put the treadmill’s speed on ‘creep.’

“So how long?” I asked as I started the process of walking again.

“Until I think it is getting too easy for you to do it or your legs give out,” he smiled and stepped back out of easy hitting distance. “Then we’ll make it go a bit faster, and maybe see about making your stride a bit larger.”

 

“Why are you panting? It is not that fast, it’s barely at a sixteenth of a mile per hour,” CJ grinned as he pointed to the speed monitor.

“Ugh,” I said as the sweat dripped down my face.

 

“Massage is good, sludge is bad…”

 

“Yes I was being literal when said I was going to walk you until you dropped,” CJ backed away and watched the jug of sludge sail away from me at an odd direction. “Eventually I will teach you how to throw, but not today.”

“D-d-d-drat.”

 

Walking practice, such as it was, was put on hold for X-rays. The mobile X-ray vehicle was roughly the size of a large moving truck, though it expanded somewhat like a camper does with the sides extended. The techs were cautiously friendly and very professional about things, but I suspected that was due to the large payments they were getting for coming all the way out to us. Since they didn’t treat me like a piece of meat I could not complain much. Ok I complained a little, they keep it refrigerated and the scrubs they had me put on offered little in the way of warmth. 

Most of my two hour stay in the X ray van was spent in a variety of positions, most of which required I twist one way or the other. Then there were the reshoots and reshoots of reshoots, of which got old after a time. One of the said reshoots was due to CJ telling me that it was ‘just a flesh wound,’ as it is hard to hold still when you are busting a gut.

CJ and the mobile radiologist spent a long time going back and forth from shots of my arms and upper spine, to the legs and the lower spine. Then they would walk over and reposition me for another series of shots, rinse and repeat. It didn’t take long for them to get lost in a completely technical discussion that made me all to aware of how narrow my education seemed. But then I doubted if they knew the difference between EIDE and SATA hard drives.

After the X ray session CJ was on the on the phone for a long time, as he evidently he was sending films back to Dr. Otto for a consultation. I however was back in the hoist harness over the treadmill, though he had put the television close enough to where I could watch bits of it. It was a lot of bits, as I had to keep stopping to regain my footing and to restart the treadmill again. The only good thing to come out of the practice was that I had managed to almost get to up to an eighth of a mile per hour speed wise. Yay me.

 

Dinner for me revolved around trying to pick up nuts and M&M’s out of a bowl and eating them, in addition to tube-food and sludge. That and listening to CJ explain my current predicament to the Signora, the girls and the Knight Marshall. Evidently the Signora was there as my ‘guardian pro-tem’ and well the Knight Marshall was there as the boss, go figure. He had a light box for the few X Rays he thought were significant and he spent a lot of time pointing to barely visible but healed cracks.

“I think if we keep a moderate yet aggressive therapy regimen up, while pushing the calcium intake, she will not need to be confined to a wheel chair full time.” CJ paused and then said, “However, she will need spinal support and leg braces to prevent her legs and back bones from warping physically.”

“It’s that bad?” asked the Signora calmly as she glanced at me.

“Actually its that ‘good,’” stated CJ bluntly, “anyone who was not a regenerator would be bed bound due to all the stress fractures.”

 “Let’s hear it for regeneration,” I muttered with a sigh as a nut skittered away from me and across the table.

“What does this mean for our time table,” asked the Knight Marshall as he glanced from CJ to me.

“I’ve called for a prosthetic specialist I know and arranged for him to bring out a large selection of braces,” CJ paused and shrugged, “along with a walker and motorized scooter, possibly an advanced chair. The man coming out is a devisor with a knack towards this sort of thing, since money is not an object he was willing to drop a few appointments and come on out.”

“Time table?” again asked the Knight Marshall.

“I am sorry but it moves the Palace incursion back a day.” CJ shrugged and said then said, “I have to get her into the braces, teach her how to move and fall in them, and then build up her endurance a bit more.”

“Can’t I do most of the searching in a wheelchair?” I asked noting Knight Commander’s resigned nod at CJ.

“Yes you possibly could, but I still would want you in the braces,” CJ held up a hand as he explained, “your lower spine, hips, leg and foot bones are laced with healed stress fractures. While you heal almost as fast as you break them, I would not want to risk your falling and snapping a hip or have a bone break out through the skin when it broke.”

“He has a valid point,” said the Signora with a tight frown, “I have monitored Petra’s progress off and on, and she is far from stable on two feet yet.”

“What is the minimum she would need for a wheelchair only based search?” asked the Knight Marshall calmly.

CJ sighed and looked at me thoughtfully, “I want her to be able to fall properly in the braces, and able to get back into the chair.”

“Understood,” said the Knight Marshall as he regarded CJ for a moment.

“Half a day, maybe less once she actually is in the braces, and we are not rushing the fitting of them. We may have to skimp on some training but we are not skimping on her protection.”

“I agree,” stated the Signora with a glance at the Knight Marshall.

“Training can be made up, but I am worried about the time crunch we are under.” The Knight Marshal shook his head, “The drone searches have been useless, and we have tried to send in volunteers. Even with the best protections we have been able to put on them, they get distracted, disorientated or just plain walk out of the building blankly.”

“Has anyone offered to ask Gothmog or Sara for a mark?” I asked as I looked at the others

“It is a thought,” said the Knight Marshal, “but I doubt I would get any volunteers, and regrettably I could not in good faith order someone to do something I myself would not do.”

I glanced at him and asked, “Why not?”

“Well its due to the ring, and the times I have spent in Heaven,” he sighed and gave me pained smile, “I could not risk losing that.”

“Nor would any of the others, myself included,” said CJ with an embarrassed shrug.

I considered that I had never been admitted to see Heaven and nodded slowly, “They have never let me in to see heaven.”

“So you see the conundrum, I really could use more people ‘like you,’ but the system is rather stacked against people like you.” The Knight Marshal stood up and nodded to us, “If you can skimp on sleep for more training… please attempt it Petra.”

“I’ll try sir,” I said as I glanced to CJ who nodded.

“I am game if she is, with luck I can get you up to half a mile per hour.” CJ shrugged after a moment, “But that depends on how well you manage distances on an eighth of a mile per hour.”

 

CJ had a new bit of torture for me for when my legs needed a break. He called it the object manipulation confidence board, I called it freaking annoying among other foul things. Basically it was a large sheet of wood with doorknobs, latches, keys to be pressed, along with things to twist, turn and screw attached to it. There were also a wide variety of pegs, and holes to put them into. Sally’s contribution to this a bowl full of cartridges and magazines to fit them into, so that I could in theory, refill my own in a pinch.

“I’m still trying to find you a suitable gun,” Sally said after a time.

“A nine millimeter would work on humans,” I said after a moment, wrestling a ten-millimeter round into its home. “Not s-s-so much on d-d-daemons.”

“Depends on the round,” commented the Knight Marshal as he watched me struggle for a time with the cartridges, “and the range you have to work with.”

“I have discovered that point blank sucks,” I said with a roll of my eyes.

“Yes I had heard about that kill,” said the Knight Marshal, “any kill you survive is a good one when it comes to daemons.”

“Anything with massive recoil is out, unless you like breaking your wrist on the first shot,” commented CJ as he removed the bowl of cartridges from my lap, “back to stumbling along Petra.” I let him remove the feeder lines and then he rolled me back to the hoist and then he reconnected me.

I sighed and said slowly, “The next time someone wants me to die for the cause, I am going to insist they take my place in the dying part.”

“Yeah,” said CJ as he got the hoist set up for ‘catch,’ “good plan.”

Resigned to yet another period of ‘catch me fall,’ I nodded at him, “Rehab sucks.”

“Indeed,” agreed the Knight Marshal before he walked out.

“It is better than being dead though,” observed CJ with a smile as he adjusted the speed upwards slightly.

“I guess, feels like hell to me though,” I said with a sigh as I nearly tripped again.

 

Tuesday, 12 December, 2006

My endless hours of torture were interrupted by a trip to the Bone Densitometer mobile home, slash truck. Though basically it was a ‘lay still, do nothing’ sort of endeavor on my part. CJ and the techs had a field day as they discussed Regenerative Induced Osteoporosis and other related bits, evidently the techs were seriously into their job and I was a bit of a novelty to them. Frankly I was bored off my socks by the whole process, though the pictures were vaguely neat, and only underscored how messed up my bones were.

The second interruption was due to the Prosthetic Specialist arriving with his semi truck and its contents. Colin Baker, who was no relation to the ‘Dr. Who guy,’ was ‘mobility challenged’ and a Devisor who liked to make others like himself mobile once again. Although he seemed like a bit of a goof at times, his toys were cool, and he seemed to enjoy what he did for a living.

To my eyes he sat partially encased in metal and plastic, along with some sort of exo-skeleton that climbed up his back and chest. The rest of him was in casually dressed in denim slacks and a bright green polo shirt that read, ‘Unbound Life, Bio-Technology Services LTD.’ His blond hair was receding, though free-flowing and tide back loosely in a ponytail, his eyes were multifaceted though, and seemed to sparkle like emeralds.   

“Pleased to meet you Petra,” he said with an easy smile, “so you are a part time gimp?”

“Yup so it would seem,” I said as I studied his mechanical attachments.

“I was in a diving accident in Hawaii,’ he said as I glanced at him, “I nailed the dive but I nailed the rock too in the process.”

“Ouch,” I said as I looked up at his face.

“Eh, it’s the past, I still think I would have tried the dive again,” he smiled and then said, “I never could resist extreme sports.”

“How goes the hang gliding?” asked CJ with a grin.

“It has its ups and downs, but I have not crashed yet,” Colin said with a grin, “yet.”

“Expecting to crash?” I asked as he seemed to thing it was a given.

“Oh yes, kind of,” he grinned and said, “if there is no danger, I ask myself, then why am I doing it?”

“Ah, one of those,” I said with a smile.

“I am afraid so,” he paused and looked from me to CJ, “so we don’t exactly have to worry about a budget, but time is of the essence?”

“Yes,” CJ paused and said; “she’ll need some sort of wheelchair, plus the orthotics for her spine, hips, legs and feet, with possible additional support for the shoulders, neck and arms.”

“Maybe with and without body armor,” said the Knight Marshal as he entered the trailer. He was once again wearing shorts, so it made me wonder if he was still trying to make a point on my behalf. “But if it takes longer, without.”

Colin glanced at the Knight Marshal and then lower at his leg, he pointed at the prosthetic leg and said, “I know I can do better than that.”

“Later I may let you,” the Knight Marshal said with a chuckle, “but for now, the girl needs your attention.”

“Ok so what environmental needs does she have?” asked Colin as he moved to what seemed like geek heaven to me. He paused and thumbed a button bringing a multitude of monitors to life. “All this tech and I still lose playing GEO,” he said as an aside to me.

“Well she can only move at about a sixteenth of a mile per hour, without stumbling a lot.” CJ paused and studied me with his eyes half closed, “Her bone structure is greatly diminished due to RIO, muscular strength on par with a six year old from the waist on down, active paraplegic with a decent weight training program in the upper body.”

“Gee, and I thought I was doing good,” I rolled my eyes at CJ and said, “I would say superior upper body strength.”

“Keep thinking that way Petra,” said Colin with a smile as he studied me.

“Environment wise, home, office, school, urban combat and open field.” CJ shrugged and added, “She may want to blend in as much as possible when she doesn’t have to worry about daemons trying to tear her apart.”

“If I didn’t know you were frequently dealing with serious crap CJ, I’d be looking at you oddly by now.” Collin looked at CJ and then the rest of us, “And people think I have serious thrill issues.”

“Yes, you do,” said CJ with a laugh.

Colin looked at me and said, “I hate to tell this too you, if you have not figured it out already.” He paused and bluntly stated, “People are only going to see the prosthetics and wheelchair first, before they even see you in them.”

“Ok, and thi-s-s ef-f-fects me how?” I tried to ask calmly as I glanced at his body.

“Well you are going to be frequently pitied and with the speech impediment many will automatically shun you.” Colin pointed to himself, “You can be a stud one day and with the need to wear these things you become a freak or human refuse. I’m not saying ‘all people’ are like that but the bulk of humanity from childhood are conditioned to think that way.”

“That’s a pretty harsh view of humanity, but he’s not far from the mark,” said the Knight Marshal, “even with just the leg and crutches for a time my social circle dwindled to nearly nil.”

“I’ll cope,” I said with a shrug, “anyone that matters will see and know me, the rest can bite me.”

“Good, keep thinking that way,” Colin said approvingly. “So while you are not up for jump infantry armor; I think we can handle mundane stuff like getting you around easily.”

“And the not so mundane stuff?” I asked with a smile.

“Will require thinking,” Colin said with a grin, “but I am good at that.”

 

“Does the mini-gun come standard or is it an optional accessory?” I asked as I lay on a scanning bed. I was wearing a sports bra and skimpy shorts that covered everything, but barely at that. As the lights and arms moved over and around me he directed me through a bunch of positions, some of which made me wonder if he was a perv.

“Mini-guns are not practical,” Colin said with a chuckle as he sat in a booth with many monitors, “the ammo you have to lug around for one makes them impractical for serious firefights.”

“The idea is to make it short firefights,” I said with a laugh.

“I like rail-guns myself, take a ball bearing, and shoot it fast enough that by the time it hits the target it’s white hot from air friction,” he paused and the arms started moving back into their recesses. “It still has the same mass but it cuts like a laser as it penetrates.”

“Ah I’ll take two then,” I said with a laugh.

“Lets see about getting you mobile before we worry about making you into a Terminator.’ Colin walked in and said, “It will take a few minutes for the extruders to make up the hard shells for the braces, and a few more minutes for the foam injection forms to set.”

“Then what?” I asked as he handed me a robe to slip on.

“Then I connect things together while a heaver set is constructed,” he paused and said, ”for those rough and tumble sort of days.”

“Is it daemon proof, the heavier set that is?” I asked curiously.

“Heck no, I would have to use more exotic materials for something like that.” He shrugged and said, “The heavier set will let you fall absorbing most of the impact, but it is fairly obtrusive and obvious. The lighter set can be concealed somewhat by clothing however it will not absorb shock very well.”

“So basically the lighter set is so I can pass for being human?” I asked as I sat there.

“Blending in as much as possible is good,” Colin said as he tapped his own prosthesis. “I have a tamer set of gear for when I need to be more publicly acceptable.”

I nodded at him, as his stuff was fairly wild looking, “Ok so what about getting around?”

“That has been done for a few minutes,” Colin said as he pushed my chair over and steadied me as I got into it. “But we have to go outside to get it, there simply is not enough room in a semi-trailer for what I make it do.”

 

Blinking I watched the wheelchair stand and roll about on one set of its six wheels. “This is similar to an iBOT wheel chair, in that it has the ability to stand up like this with a person in it. There is a gyroscopic stabilizer that keeps it upright, with mini-tractor and pressor beams that will keep it upright even if hit by a rugby team or a baby elephant.”

“Color me impressed, so it’s a baby battlemech?” I asked as he lowered it to wheels down mode.

“Same principal,” he said with a smile, “though I think the Clanners have better ones.”

“They usually do,” I said with a grin as I rolled closer.

“This baby will climb stairs and with the P-T system it can’t fall down them, and even if it got ‘pushed off a cliff’ or something similar, it would land softly and right side up.” He grinned and said, “I know it will too, I tested it.”

“Where you in it at the time?” I asked critically.

“Well the third time I launched it yes,” he gave me a look that said he wasn’t ‘that’ crazy. “It saps the snot out of the reserve capacitor when you take it sky diving from five thousand feet though.”

“I’ll take your word for that, how is it powered?” I asked considering I could barely feel any energy from it.

“It has a fuel-cell which charges a duel bank of special capacitors.” Colin smiled somberly, ”It’s shielded heavily enough that a nuke in the same building will fry the electronics, and the motors for it are as shielded as I could make them.” He shrugged and said, “I’m sensitive to current flows, and drives me nuts when things are not shielded, sets my teeth on edge something fierce.”

“I can relate, seriously.” I watched as he made it ‘pack down into a cube shape that was about three foot tall, “Cute.”

“It’s heavy, but it will fit into the back of an SUV like this,” Colin explained and then he returned it to normal, “Most of the weight is the gryo and shielding though.”

“How much power does it take to run it full out?” I asked as I watched.

“It varies, with the wheels up mode and all the safeties running it eats two thousand watts a minute, just rolling about with the crash field up, about one thousand watts.” He paused at my questioning look, “this thing can get up to twenty miles an hour on a level surface, up to fifteen on grass terrain. It slows down considerably on very steep hills though.”

“It has a crash field?” I asked curiously.

“Yeah it’ll let you take a hit from an SUV going at fifty miles an hour safely… but beyond that you are in for a world a hurt.” He grinned and said, “No I put a crash test dummy in for those tests, if you were about to ask.”

“Ah ok, and why would I have to worry about crashes?” I asked expectantly.

“Idiot drivers that don’t pay attention, mostly it is for parking lot safety and for those bits where you might have to cross the road.” He gave me a somber look, “I’ve been hit a half dozen times already, people are just dangerous on the roads.”

“Ok what about bullets?” I asked as he moved the arms up and motioned for me to roll over and swap.

“There is a panic button that will crank the crash field all the way up instantly,” he said as he pointed to a covered switch, “flip that switch, and you automatically will drop to wheels down, unless you are on stairs. Eighty percent of the power plant will then go right into the shield blocking just about everything up to an RGP. Also the safeties kick out on the motors for the wheels so you can out run all but a mutant speedster easily, but the motors will overheat and automatically kick down speed wise if you run at max for more than five minutes.”

“Ok um does it block gasses?” I asked after a moment as I eased into the seat.

“No, nor sound wave weapons or lasers,” he shrugged and said, “that would take up too much mass and the chair is designed to be carried on or in most vehicles.”

“Ok what happens if I have to use the panic button on the stairs?” I asked curiously as it seemed a ‘sticky point.’

“It depends if you are going up or down,” Colin grimaced and continued, “going up stairs is not a super fast process as it is, and it really bogs down when the emergency button is flipped. Down well, the pressor system lets you glide down like a slick brick on a slide, a very bumpy slide.”

“Ah so anyone at the bottom of the stairs?” I asked thoughtfully.

“Is going to get hurt if you slam into them,” Colin shrugged and said, “try not to get shot at on stairs.”

“Ok, but getting shot at is not on my list of things to do,” I quickly stated.

He helped me to fasten my safety belt and said, “Good, now play around with the controls, and try not to run over anyone while I check on the rest of your gear.”

“You are not going to give me the manual?” I asked as I looked at the controls.

“Nope once you sit in it, it starts the tutorial mode,” he grinned, “just read the screen, I am sure you can figure it out.”

“Cool,” I said and pressed a button to move it to the next screen and off of the logo page.

 

“Well this is going to be a pain to get out of in a hurry,” I said as I lay there letting Colin and CJ close up the heavier brace around me.

“It is not too bad, the waist portions are designed to come off easily for bathroom use.” Colin explained as he tapped them, “Getting them back in place is a bit trickier, but usually people don’t mind that as much as they mind making a mess in their underpants.”

“Yeah that would be a downer,” I said as I watched them work, “there are a lot of locking clips involved in this.”

“Well everything is adjustable to some extent, to allow for muscle growth or weight gain,” CJ explained as he turned an adjuster to make a clip lock tighter.

“Many other braces use an acre of Velcro for the fasteners, it makes them cheaper but the straps tend to fray after a time and are subject to dry rot.” Colin smiled and pattered a clamp, “While these can break, replacing them is only a few moments work.”

“If you say so,” I said as he clipped me into an odd pair of armored shorts,

“Each of the two halves should rest comfortably without pinching or putting too much pressure over any one point,” Colin said as he tapped one with a finger, “you will want to wear clothing that is good fitting under the frame to remain comfortable. Too much fabric leads to bunching and welts that can become blisters; as bulky as this seems you can put bulkier clothing over it for winter use.”

“What are the tubes or wires going into each part for?” I asked and indicated one such strand.

“Thermal regulation,” Colin said with a smile, “most of your body will be heated or cooled by the gel-like padding in the brace. It helps to prevent heat rash and getting to uncomfortable when wearing it for long periods of time.”

“What powers it?” I asked wondering if I was going to be stuck with a heavy power pack.

“Your body does,” Colin grinned and paused to tap the top shell that would go over my chest, “thermo-electric power is created as each section warms, literally the hotter your body gets, the more power it has to heat or cool you with. Depending on your settings you can warm or cool each section as needed, cooling the top while warming the feet and so on.”

“And the controls for it are located where?” I asked quickly.

“The control unit is about the size of a PDA and it transmits to the chest piece which then handles the changes.” Colin chuckled and then said, “With the added EM shielding you will have to hold it within three inches of the chest section to get it to function though.”

 “It doesn’t look like it would stop much bullet wise, not with all the open gaps every where,” I said as I lay fully back to have the rest of me snapped in.

“No but I have a PPF belt for you,” Colin said and at my blank look added, “Personal Protective Field Belt. The fuel cell will keep it running at full output for ten minutes before you need to worry about putting more water in it. I stole the design from the various Armies that use them and tweaked it.  It’s rated to take a twenty-millimeter anti-aircraft round but not much higher than that. Also do not expect for it to keep you upright when you get hit with heavy rounds though. When you are hit it spreads the force from the impact in a half cylinder around you then bleeds the rest of the blow off by transmitting inertia to the entire cylinder if the round does not ricochet off.”

“So not getting hit is still the best tactic?” I asked as he connected the neck rings to the brace that ran up the back of my neck.

“Yup, welcome to the Borg Collective Petra, you have been assimilated,” said CJ as he held up a helmet that had cameras and other stuff built into it.

“The PPF belt will keep off the rain, bugs and the roving hands from other pests should you crank it up,” Collin said with a chuckle, “the down side of having the PPF cranked all the way up is that shooting out of it becomes a no-no.”

“Um doesn’t that make them dumb to use for the Armies?” I asked, “They are supposed to shoot people aren’t they?”

“The Armies do not let them get cranked up that high very often,” Colin said with a frown, “nor do they issue them to every soldier, it’s an economics thing and they can be detected easily by some satellites and sensors.”

“Makes me glad I am a man of the cloth, and not a solder for that kind of army,” said CJ with a dry chuckle.

“True, so very true.” Colin looked at me and smiled, “Now we need to get her on her feet and make her walk with it on.”

“But I am comfortable,” I said feeling slightly amazed that I was comfortable in it.

“I do good work,” Colin said as he pulled on arm to make me sit up.

“But break time is over,” said CJ with a smile, “now you learn to walk and fall in it.”

“I am so not enthused,” I said with a sigh.

 

  Once CJ was certain I could fall fairly decently, crawl and creep and climb into the chair with the heavier brace, he green-lighted me to go back to Rome and the Rose Palace. Walking in it was a joke unless I had a ‘granny walker’ helping me to stay upright, and it certainly was not a fast pace. The good news was that even with the feeding tubes in my stomach and sticking out of my belly, I could swim. That is once I relearned how and found a pool or something that would not sap my charge to badly. 

So with the green-light, I found myself in a brand new mini-van that was tricked out for wheel chair use, and riding back to Rome. They also hooked me up with all sorts of sensors and communications equipment along the way back, which made the frequent rest stops slight embarrassing. The stops were frequent due to CJ’s feeding schedule, since they were not sure how long the search would take; as a precaution I was getting ‘over fed.’

While I would be going in alone, Dammut and Sally would be outside of the building watching the entrances and exits. In theory they were protected from the effects of the spell or what ever by their ‘nature,’ so in an emergency they would come and extract me. Leigh was playing driver for me, so she was going to be in the mini-van waiting on a ‘fast get away’ if needed. Michelle and Rose were going to be waiting in the van as ‘magickal back up’ if a daemon or something popped out on me.

“The Inquisition says the area around the Rose Palace is mostly clear, and the people that are in proximity are valid Church personnel,” said the Knight Marshal from a small monitor attached to my chair.

“Oh goody,” I acknowledged, “did they locate their agent?”

“Yes, fortunately they did so before he drank himself into a coma,” the Knight Marshal frowned, “evidently he fell off the wagon in a hard way.”

“So the effect does not distinguish between the Inquisition and the Knights,” I paused and said, “well that rules them out of a deep plot.”

“Or they decided to sacrifice a flunky,” the Knight Marshal said with a shrug. “However I’m going to work on the presumption that they are above letting people sacrifice pregnant women to dark powers to gain status in the Church.”

“We’re a few minutes out,” announced Leigh from the front seat.

“Almost there,” I echoed to the Knight Marshal.

“I heard, the reception on the equipment NEXT loaned us is nice, we may have to see about buying it,” the Knight Marshal said with a grin, “which is likely why they are so happy to loan it to us.”

“That could be it, I am sure Willard’s people do not miss a trick when it comes to potential sales,” I said with a grin.

“Yes, well NEXT has found Arturo, so we’ll have him with us soon,” said the Knight Marshal with a pained chuckle. “He didn’t come easily, both Bill and Tammy have broken limbs from attempting to restrain him.”

  “Ouch, so how did they get him?” I asked with a wince on their behalf.

“Bill shot him in the neck severing the spine, and while Arturo was healing the other member of the team strapped him to a traction board,” the Knight Marshal winced and said, “the death threats he makes are rather unique.”

“Bill tends to like direct methods,” I said with wide eyes, “doesn’t he?”

“So it would appear,” the Knight Marshal appeared to glance off camera, “everyone here is watching your camera feeds and monitoring the others in your team as well.”

“Goody, now I won’t feel so all alone,” I muttered at him.

“Well the Inquisition does have a ready Action Team on stand by, so if it gets really hairy there you will have support,” the Knight Marshal stated calmly.

Sally thumped my protected shoulder and then she said, “Mutt and I will be there, if there is a problem.”

“Good,” I said with a relieved smile.

 

Once I had gained entry to the building and my nerves had settled some, the first room I decided that needed investigation was the bathroom. Its use garnered me a few chuckles of humor and a lot of innuendo from both the girls and the Knights. Though it needed checking as well as the other rooms, so no one griped too much about the slight change of search order.

After the bathroom break I had to have a discussion with the various knights who wanted to micromanage me when it came to ‘their’ offices. Finally after a spell where I could not speak in Italian because I was ‘too flaming mad’ to think coherently the Knight Marshall took sole possession of the channel leading directly to me. Once that bit of stress was over the job got boring real quick.  

Calmer I began the process of systematically entering every ‘safe to enter’ office, opening every cabinet, desk drawer and safe. Any bit of correspondence or notes that were dated a few days prior to the ‘event’ I was instructed to deliver to Rose for return to the Lodge, if I could not find the source. That made for a few dozen extra trips back and forth since I was the only one who could do it. 

 

The Security Director’s office was a paranoid’s playground; I contrasted it to Mel Gibson’s ‘Conspiracy Theory’ and got a few chuckles, as I had to follow an exact pattern for opening anything. That office ate two hours of everyone’s time, as my hands were still not that coordinated, however it was vital to do it considering it held the digital records of the buildings access via the entry cards.

“Right, I’ve got the DVD’s. Is the pick-up messenger there?” I asked as I carefully placed the disks into a small box.

 “Ready and waiting to bring them to us,” said the Knight Marshal with a relieved sigh, “for a moment I was worried the last booby-trap sure was about to get you.”

“Me too, and while some paranoia is healthy, the spell or what ever it is played hell with him,” I said as I rolled out of that office with a feeling of relief.

 

The other sensitive office or the one that I thought was sensitive, was the one that should have had the pictures from the crime scene in it. Someone had pretty much stripped the entire office of items, making me and others fairly certain that the smoking gun must have been in it. The only thing left in the room apart from the furniture was bits of tape and a fragment of the map that had hung on the wall. I gave the pinholes in the wall a glower as they told me exactly nothing I could use to backtrack as a clue.

I sat there for a time peering at the wall, shifting my head slightly one way or another trying to pick out a pattern, or something. “What’s the problem Petra, apart from a missing map?” asked the Knight Marshal.

“I’ve got this mental itch that says if I could only see the pattern of holes on a real map I might learn something,” I explained as I glowered at the wall.

“Very likely,” said the Knight Marshal, “just leave the bits of map and tape in place for now and continue the search.”

 

“Well that was the last office on this floor,” I said with a disgusted sigh, “two more and the first basement to go.”

“Yes well stopping to look at the pictures does break up the monotony,” said the Knight Marshal with a chuckle, “so much art and we barely even pause to notice it most of the time.”

“Sorry just trying to cover all the bases,” I said as I studied another picture, “though…”

“Did you have an idea?” asked the Knight Marshal as I sat there for a time.

“Something Connor said when we went to visit Father Trovatelli, basically not seeing the art because you all see too much of it…” I paused and glanced at the walls.

“I think that I am following your line of thinking.” He paused and then continued, “That somehow someone slipped us a new bit of art with the spell, construct or devise inside of it.”

“Maybe with a bit of extra spelling or something that makes you not even notice it?” I asked as I confirmed his reasoning. “So who would receive and hang the art in the building?”

“Well the Vatican has staff for that, but if a painting had been damaged the custodial staff would remove it for protection. Then they would notify the restoration department,” the Knight Marshall paused, “the head of which is Father Trovatelli. Did he seem affected in any way?”

“Well he was bidding enthusiastically on cartoon art when I met him,” I sighed and said, “so it is possible he came into the building some time.”

“He and Father Pete have played chess occasionally, which is why he agreed to play ‘Uncle’ for you,” stated the Knight Marshall. “If it is the art, you likely have been followed pretty intently while you were on the Vatican grounds.”

“Why is that?” I asked as I rolled down the hallway to the elevators.

“Father Pete just tried to reach Father Trovatelli, and I am sad to say the good Father has evidently passed on from a massive heart attack.” The Knight Marshal sounded fairly grim as he said, “I suspect foul play, head to the basement and let us see if you can find the custodial logs.”

 

After checking the desk I glanced further around the overly neat shop, “Wow,” I said with a chuckle, “Mr. Clean ‘lives’ here.” I glanced at the immaculate office and workspaces and shook my head. “Seriously, everything that could be shined has been shined.”

“Yes so I see,” the Knight Marshal chuckled, “evidently he has a passion for cleaning.”

“Or a complex,” I rolled around the office and paused by a file cabinet that was secured with a bright and shiny external padlock, “I am going to need a crow-bar to get into that I think.”

“Right, well check out the shop for one, I have no doubt it is neatly put away,” he said with a slight chuckle.

A minute of looking and I had both the crowbar and a clue, of a sort. “I found a shipping crate, just the right size for a large painting I think.” I made sure the camera recorded the size and shape of it and then looked for a shipping invoice. “I don’t see any papers for it.”

“Right, go and pop the lock if you can, if not we’ll have Sally get it off,” the Knight Marshal said with a chuckle, “I am sure she can do it, since she can toss me around on the mat.”

“Did I miss that?” I asked as I rolled over to the cabinet.

“I’ve met Saul before, let us just say that we worked out some authority issues,” the Knight Marshal chuckled softly, “it was a draw if you were curious, I am not as spry as I used to be.”

“Bullshit,” was Sally’s injunction over the radio before returning to silence.

“I see,” I said as I wondered how violent things got.

 Once I was back to the filing cabinet, I stood the chair up on two wheels and fumbled the crowbar into the hasp of the lock. That process took a few annoying minutes, mostly due to my own impatience and lack of coordination. I was relieved that the hasp separated easily enough from the file cabinet, as the pressure from the crowbar pulled the screws holding it in place pulled them free.

The file cabinet quickly turned up both the maintenance log and the packing label from the crate. Evidently the person who worked there was really into; ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’ I knew this by a thick section in the cabinet that was labeled P for Porn, and had things neatly arranged by date in it. 

Having decided that I didn’t need a crash course in his potential perversions, I turned my attention to the logbook labeled, ‘Art Inventory.’ Inside was a floor-by-floor accounting of each piece of art, with pictures and dates of placement, replacement and repair. Turning to the last pages in the book I found the receipt for the repair of ‘The Walls of Jericho,’ which had suffered damage when its protective glass had been shattered. A smaller note read that a temporary replacement had evidently been anonymously donated and had found its way to the custodial offices.

With a sinking feeling I noted the lack of an entry for the replacement painting. “Has anyone bothered to try and locate the Janitorial staff?” I asked after moment of glancing around at the very tidy shop and office area.

“We are looking into it now,” said the Knight Marshal with a tired sounding sigh.

“I’m going up to the fifth floor, to see this new painting,” I said as I eased the log book behind me in the chair, “I am sure it will be enlightening.”

“I have no doubt,” said the Knight Marshal with a chuckle.

 

As I waited for the elevator to arrive I asked, “Do you realize how spooky this building is at night when you are all alone in it?”

“I’ve a few of the Knights who swear the building is haunted,” commented the Knight Marshal with a laugh, “some of which have gone as far to try and exorcize it.”

“I don’t blame them a bit,” I said as the building creaked oddly as the elevator came to rest at my level. “I keep expecting something to jump out at me and yell ‘boo!’”

“That’s your hindbrain talking to you,” said the Knight Marshal, “it has its purpose, but the bulk of its messages are confused.”

I startled as the elevator door chimed, and didn’t quite suppress an ‘Eep!’ of surprise, “Damned b-bell.”

“I heard, just focus on the mission,” he advised with a chuckle.

 

As I rolled out onto the fifth floor I startled a large rat, which in turn startled me and I found myself grabbing at the panic button for my chair. Once my hearts resynchronized I was able to take a breath or two so that my voice would not be shrill, “Do you know you have a rat problem?”

The Knight Marshal laughed for a full minute as I waited for him to reply, “That’s Stew, the resident rat.”

“As in ‘he’ll be stew if I catch him?’” I muttered in disgust at the Knight Marshal.

“Precisely, thus far he has eluded all traps, poisons and baits,” the Knight Marshal then whispered, “he’s really a shape shifted spy for the Inquisition…”

“Ha!” I replied with a grin, “I bet they say the same about us Knights.”

“Very likely, it looks pretty dark so you may have to find the lights first, before you can do any serious looking,” he advised with a sigh.

 

Finding all the lights, was tricky as there was an over abundance of armors, shield, banners and stuff on all the walls. Some of which ended up on the floor due to my clumsiness, and the fact that they were blocking the switches. After the third set of armor I had sent crashing the Knight Marshal had to take a walk to calm down. He was muttering about relics something fierce as he sputtered along for a while. 

“So lass, are ye nerves frazzled enough yet?” asked Father Pete after a moment.

“You could say that, this place is a nightmare to maneuver in.” I eased the chair around another rack of weapons, “Have you all considered getting a larger building or starting a private museum?”

“Aye, its been mentioned a few times,” he replied with a loud chuckle, “but then most of us would end up on display in it.”

I paused and blinked at what seemed to be a mummy sitting up in its sarcophagi where it held a sign that read, ‘Do not feed the occupants after midnight.’ “Some of you all are plain nuts,” I commented with a grin.

I rolled closer and just as Father Pete tried to warn me about something, the mummy shifted and seemed to groan in horrific pain. Which caused me to freak, flip my panic button and nearly pee in my shorts as it rattled in its sarcophagi enthusiastically. After a moment or so of panicked demolition derby as I tried to instinctively get away and knocked over a few displays in the process; it abruptly stopped moving and sat still. 

Once my thought processes slowed down to where I could speak, the first words out of my mouth with still in Chinese, “… I am going to have to kill something or someone for that.”

“I tried to warn ye lass about the mummy, some joker back in the seventies wired it up for Halloween.” He paused and added, “It’s a bit of tradition since then to let folks discover it for themselves. Pur thing has been chopped, stabbed, sprayed with holy water and shot a few times since.”

“You don’t say,” I muttered sarcastically then I remember a small bit of him doing something with ruins. “Would I be speaking to that joker?”

“Nay lass, I would remember creating such a grand joke,” he said with a soft laugh.

I glanced at the wall behind it, which had a few odd divots, “I see, are any other nasty rude surprises up here?”

“Just the one ye are searching for,” he said after a moment.

“Yeah, let me pull out the book and find where the painting ‘should be,’” I said and proceeded to do just that; though I had to force my fingers to stop shaking in order to do so.

 

Finding where the painting should be was easy enough, once we collectively puzzled though the notations in the book. Then it was a matter of my just rolling there and looking for it, and looking for it and looking for it. After a long minute of confirming that the painting to the left and right of its location were correct I rolled in front of the big blank space on the wall and glared.

“There is nothing there?” asked the Knight Marshal with a tired sounding sigh.

“There is nothing there, but my skin is crawling up the back of my neck in a big way the longer I look there,” I said after I spun my chair around and rolled away from its location.

“Ah, go down the hall and look back,” he suggested thoughtfully.

“Great minds think alike,” I said with a relieved chuckle, as I got further away. Once I reached the end of the long hallway I spun the chair and looked back, staring I felt the same thing but to a lesser extent, “It has got to be down there. If I look away nothing, when I look back its makes the short hairs on my neck go nuts.”

“Yes we get the same effect back here, and if the Roses and Thorns agree on something in consensus, its there,” he said with a chuckle, “rest a moment while we asses things.”

 

While they discussed things I rolled further away and put the chair into its standing mode so I could examine a large painting up close. Then I rolled back and looked at how it hung and how the lights and shadows played on it, and the wall behind it. Then after lowering the chair I carefully dismounted and looked at the frame and how it rested on the wall.

“That doesn’t look like resting,” said Father Pete as I moved the painting slightly off the wall.

“Thinking by touching and looking,” I explained as I lay down and inched on my back so that my face was looking up from under the painting.

“Are you getting an idea?” he asked as I sat up.

“Yes, I’ve got two forms of vision,” I explained as I got back into the chair, “three if you count the magickal stuff.”

“So what sort of thing do ye have in mind?” he asked as I got seated.

“I think I have too much light to see the right shadows,” I explained as I spun my chair around.

“As jumpy as ye were I would have thought a lack of shadows was desirable,” he opined as I rolled back to that sections light switches.

It took a moment to cut out enough of the lights in that section so I would have decent shadows. Then I rolled back to the painting I was using as my thought experiment, once there I rolled back and forth a few times getting a feel for what shadows to expect. That done I returned to the ‘creepy section’ and killed the same amount of lights.

Rolling back and forth a few times I grunted as the shadows briefly flickered and vanished in the corners of my eyes. “Gotcha,” I said with a definite smirk on my face.

“Got what?” asked the Knight Marshal and I took a moment to explain what I had been spending the past few minutes on.

“So you see, its not bending the light it’s bending our perceptions,” I slowed my thinking down and said, “so while I can’t see the painting I can see the shadows in the corners of my eyes, briefly as I roll by.”

I slowly dismounted and used the wall to keep me steady as I moved closer and lay down to look up under the frames of the other paintings, “Can you see the shadow the frame has under it?”

“Barely,” he acknowledged patiently.

“I’m going to scoot under our ‘mystery painting’ and I think you will see the faint shadow of its frame,” I explained as I used my heels to move me along. Finally when I was under it and the thin dark shadow was visible to my naked eyes, I said, “Yup it is there.”

“Tilt you head back a bit if you can,” the Knight Marshal instructed and as I obliged he grunted, “I would not suggest touching it, but can you look at it magically for me and tell me what you see?”

“I can try, no guarantees though, I’ve not mastered it very well,” I sat up so I could give it a good look, then I opened up my ‘mage eyes.’

Somewhere between the next heartbeat and a scream I blacked out.  

 
Read 9928 times Last modified on Thursday, 19 August 2021 00:45

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