For an eternity I drifted in a ghostly nothingness. I had no thoughts, no consciousness. I just existed, somehow, but with no mind, no body, no me. At times there were voices, sometimes pleading, sometimes soft and reassuring, sometimes just businesslike. There was an occasional sensation of light, but without form or shape or color. There was no beginning or end, just an endless perpetuation. Only the voices seemed out of place, and it was as if they were slowly, gently pulling me out of the oblivion in which I had become marooned.
Then, somehow, a nebulous light began to take on form. I became aware of strange geometric patterns, which slowly resolved themselves into "things." One was an odd white glowing sphere that floated in midair before me. For a very long time I contemplated and admired it. And then, as if someone somewhere had thrown a switch, it metamorphosed into a ceiling light fixture.
"She's looking around!" someone said excitedly, and another, less regularly shaped object appeared between the fixture and myself. For a moment I was puzzled, and then I remembered that it was a face. "Can you hear me?" the face said. "Can you understand what I'm saying?"
At first I just listened to the words in fascination, the first words I'd comprehended in aeons. Then I realized that they were grouped into questions, and that I was expected to say something in response. The effort brought out only a strangled squawk followed by a violent coughing fit. By now there were quite a few faces floating around me. Someone sprayed something cool and sweet into my mouth once I'd stopped coughing, and I tried to speak again. "Imogay," I finally managed, discovering my tongue to be oddly thick and sluggish to respond.
"Don't worry," said one of the other faces, "you're doing fine. Can you remember your name?" "Thenahia," I mumbled. "Good," it continued approvingly, "and how old are you?" I had to think about that, and thinking was hard. "Tweddy vore," I finally answered.
"I think she's going to be all right," I heard the voice say reassuringly to someone else in the room. Somebody shone a light in my eyes, eliciting a mumbled growl from me, and they expressed satisfaction with the results. Then a new face floated into view.
"Alan," I said in recognition.
"Yes, Sen, it's me," he said. "Don't worry about your voice not working right. You've been in a coma for several weeks, and it'll take you a little while to get things working again. You're doing just fine." He turned away, and I heard him say again, in a strangely garbled voice, "You're doing just fine."
Gradually I found the world around me resuming its familiar appearance. At first my thoughts were hazy and unfocused, and I'd be unable to recognize faces or understand simple sentences, then something would "click" and yet another connection would have been reestablished. I discovered that I was in a hospital on Qozernon, where I'd lain with multiple fractures and internal injuries for the past nineteen days, ever since what was widely becoming known as the "Rouaas Incident." Apparently I'd broken my left arm, leg, collarbone, lots of ribs, and, more critically, my back. Most life threatening of all had been a severe blow to the head that had fractured my skull (supposedly impervious, that) in two places.
For four days I'd hovered between life and death as my body's biochemical systems oscillated wildly from one extreme to another and the medical team fought to stabilize my condition. They'd finally succeeded, but I had then failed to regain any semblance of consciousness. I'd remained in that state for over two weeks, with only a glimmer of detectable brain activity remaining, like the shadow of a thought. As day after day had passed without signs of responsiveness, hopes had begun to fade of my ever recovering. It had only been two days previously that some signs of eye movement had been detected. In the meantime, I found, my friends had taken turns staying by my bedside, talking to me, reassuring me, or just holding my hand. That's one debt I can't ever even begin to repay.
On hand were my mother, Kiri, Will, and of course Alan. They were soon joined at one time or another by Kizuko, Rann, and Haley on what appeared to be a rotating basis. Kiri and Will stayed as long as they could, but as Emperor and Empress of Deshtiris they finally had to attend to managing their planet. My mother had stuck around for another week after that, making sure I was going to be all right, before also returning to Deshtiris to resume her duties.
I soon realized that I was paralyzed from the waist down, with no sensation or motor control to speak of. The broken back (two vertebrae, to be specific, and a mangled spinal cord) accounted for the total lack of sensation in my hips and legs, as well as my inability to move them. I won't even try to describe the considerable inconvenience this caused for all concerned. Well, it could have been worse, I thought cheerfully.
Once I was able to sit up a bit and could again speak reasonably coherently I began to receive a deluge of visitors, something the doctors encouraged. I discovered to my astonishment that practically everyone I'd ever met in my life, as well as some I hadn't, knew the way to my hospital room. The first few weeks were to a great extent a blur, much of it a jumble of faces and voices, mingled with all of the medical pokings, proddings and seeming abuse that inevitably appear so mysterious (and sadistic) to the unfortunate patient. My first clear memories date from about two weeks after I woke up, when Alan (who seemed to be there virtually all the time, from what I can recall) informed me that Haley and Rann were back for another visit.
"Another visit?" I said. I vaguely remembered seeing their faces, hearing their voices, but that was about it. I felt like I was emerging from a fog into a bright morning sun; my head felt clearer than it had in ages. But whatever memories I had of the fog I was leaving behind stubbornly remained there.
"They were here just three days ago," he said, looking worried. "Don't you remember?" I shook my head helplessly. "Well, they're right outside," he sighed, and left to fetch the pair.
"This is the place," I called out, seeing Rann peering warily around the door. "Get your butts in here." He was followed by Haley.
"Hi, Sen," Rann said cheerfully. Haley tried to say something but failed, mustering a feeble smile instead.
"It's not so bad," I said. "I'll be walking around in another month or two, and then watch out." To my astonishment she looked utterly taken aback by that. "Of course you will," she choked out, her eyes brimming over with tears, and then she abruptly turned and ran for the door, leaving a pop-eyed Rann in her wake.
"Hey--HEY--HEY!" I shouted after her. "What did I do?" I turned to Rann, who appeared as stunned as I. "Bring her back," I ordered. For a moment he hesitated, then ran after her. A few minutes later he reappeared alone again, with a weak grin on his face.
"It's all right," he said. "She doesn't understand. I guess I should have explained to her, but she thinks you're in denial or something."
"Denial?" I said, puzzled. I saw her hesitantly peeking around the doorway. "Haley," I said a little more gently, "please come back in here." Reluctantly she took one of the chairs. Her eyes were now rimmed with red. Boy, she's fast, I thought.
"All right now, what's this all about?" I demanded. She stared at me, eyes starting to overflow again.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled. "But you gave up so much for me." She tried to say something else, but at that point I also finally understood, and started to laugh, eliciting a look of pure horror from her. I suppose she thought I'd completely lost it by that time.
"I need to explain something to you," I said firmly. "Yes, I had two broken vertebrae, and I'm currently paralyzed from the waist down. But that's really not a big deal. Our doctors deal with that all the time. I should be walking again in about a month."
"But--" she began hesitantly.
"But?" I echoed.
"But you can't regrow central nervous system cells, can you?" she stammered. "What will they do, implant some electronics? Will you be like some kind of cyborg?" She looked like she was going to cry again. Rann looked utterly astonished. I guess it had never occurred to him to explain.
"Yecchhh," I said, making a face. "No, they're not going to put any microchips in me. They're just going to fix the damage." Seeing her skeptical look, I explained. "Of course you can regrow nerve cells, including ones in the central nervous system. It's just that doctors on your world haven't quite figured out how yet. They're only starting to do the basic research needed, but since most of your research money goes for military applications, it's going to take them a while."
"They can really regrow nerve cells?" she asked hesitantly.
"You just have to reverse the biochemical damage from the original killed cells and prevent glial scars and cyst formation, and the axons will grow back," I reassured her, my medical school studies unexpectedly flooding back. "Regrowing the nerve bodies is more difficult, but by re-establishing a glial infrastructure you can restore the--" That was when I realized that she wasn't comprehending a word I was saying. Not that I was sure I did, either. "Look, you may be the physics brain of the century, but you really don't know beans about medicine, do you?" I sighed. She shook her head vacantly, a vast smile lighting up her features.
"You're really going to be all right?" she asked in delight. In response I reached out and grabbed her hand, yanking her onto the bed on top of me and giving her a squeeze that threatened to demolish several of her own vertebrae.
"You bet I will," I said. She looked into my face, only a few inches away from hers.
"Is it safe to hug you back?" she asked hesitantly.
"The broken bones are all mended by now," I reassured her, and in response she put her arms around my shoulders and gave me a hug of her own, though still a rather tentative one, her face buried in my shoulder. When I finally released her back to Rann, I saw her face was wet again.
"And for your information," she said, forcing a smile, "Earth is not 'my world.' That honor now goes to Deshtiris."
"Me too," I said softly. I saw Rann's eyes widen as it sank in.
"Does that mean you're going to come home?" he asked hesitantly. I nodded.
"Just as soon as I can get around on my own again," I answered. "But I'd appreciate it if you'd keep it to yourselves for the time being."
His eyes lit up. "You're going to need practice to get back into shape," he said eagerly. "I'll be glad to train with you whenever you want."
"Thanks, Rann," I said. "I believe I'll take you up on that." I gave Haley an evil grin. "But are you sure you want to trust him with me, Hal?"
"I'd trust you with my life," she pronounced solemnly. There was a depth of feeling there that the clichéd words belied.
"You're no fun," I protested. "Jeez."
"Besides," she said slyly, "I don't think you'll be coming home alone." Rann looked totally nonplused, both at her comment and at my evident astonishment. "I was with the rescue party, remember?" she added in an undertone. I nodded.
"That's just between us two for now, okay?" I murmured to her.
"Sen? You mean you finally have someone?" Rann blurted out. Slow but sure, that was Rann, all right. I grinned.
"Yeah," I said. "Only he doesn't know it yet."
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|