Chris hated being in hospitals. Like the DMV and mortuaries, you seldom went there for anything pleasant. Fortunately, tonight was a slow night. Chris had yet to see anyone else since the three of them had stumbled in two hours ago. His ears still rang from the sound of the explosion, but it was dying down.
"Mister Reid?" the doctor's voice roused him from his thoughts, "I have JB's results."
Chris' mind flashed over all of the grisly thoughts he had while waiting. JB had looked relatively fine on the drive over, but looks were always deceiving. Chris never felt comfortable that JB was involved in all of this, and now that cloud of guilt that hung over Chris like an anvil. "Oh." he acknowledged half dreading to hear the report.
The doctor read from his folder and notes. "From what you described, JB is very lucky indeed. All the vitals are fine, although I'd suggest a bit more iron in the diet. Reflexes are the best I've seen. There's a little disorientation, but no sign of head injury, probably more just shock than anything else. I don't see any need for hospital time, just a day or two of rest, fluids and regular meals. If she complains about any blurred vision or headache...."
Chris shook his head trying to clear the ringing. "Excuse me?"
"Well there may be something that the initial tests may have missed so we'd need to check that out quickly" The doctor took out his penlight and flashed it across Chris' eyes. He jumped not expecting the sudden test. The doctor looked earnestly at Chris, a look of concern sat squarely on his brow. "If you don't mind me asking, how are you doing? Any disorientation, trouble reading, that sort of thing?"
"No", Chris sighed, "Tired, but ok." He didn't feel it necessary to mention the ringing, and really that was the only thing he had wrong. Ok, sore muscles, and the whole massive plasma discharge he'd could shoot from his arm, but Chris wasn't sure if those were covered by his medical plan.
"I would like to run a few tests on you too, just to make sure. I noticed you're rubbing your arm."
"No, really, I'll be fine." Chris refused any help. He wasn't much of a fan of doctors either. His arm still hurt, but Chris knew the reason why, and didn't feel like explaining that to a stranger. He tried to come up with a lame excuse. "That's just something that flares up from time to time."
The doctor was not totally convinced. "Hmm. Well, heroes need doctors too, you know. You two need to take care of yourselves. Here's the number for an associate of mine. He's very discrete and specializes in folks in your field. Take my advice and at least go get a physical from him." He handed Chris a card with a name and a number. Chris stared blankly at it.
"Uhm, sure." Chris flipped the card over. "Thank you Dr. Fine."
Dr. Fine stood and wrote another note into his folder. "So, like I said, plenty of rest for the next day or two, call us if there's any dizziness or blurred--" he paused to look at Chris, "with either of you--", Chris nodded. Dr. Fine pointed his pen at the card,"and you call Dr. Howard."
"Yes, thank you." Chris said numbly and slid the card into a pocket.
"Let me go talk to the nurse and we'll get your sister out here right away." Dr. Fine disappeared back into the emergency ward doors.
Chris again tried to clear his ears. Funny, Chris thought, he never said anything about Bob.
A light snow fell outside the Doomian War Academy and Body Shop. Krullux remembered the joyous days of his youth, feeling the brisk spring breezes and watching the servants play in the snow. Hearing their screams as they tried to make snow men out of the freshly fallen frozen nitrogen.
Those days were long past. For now the only servants left were those still frozen just a few degrees above absolute zero, caught in mid-scamper from the liquid hydrogen storms that fell last year. Krullux remembered growing up with them, eternally standing with a look of perpetual shock on their faces. They made fun tinkly sounds when they shattered.
The rest of this race were gone, he'd simply have to deal with that. A once proud people who would have shook the galaxy, now reduced to a gang of simple minded prop comedians. He sighed. Not that long ago, that thought would have driven him into a blind rage. Now it barely mustered a sigh.
Granted, it wasn't for lack of trying. But the latest plot hadn't gone well at all. Krullux looked to the sun. He had to check again, just to make sure he wasn't looking at the orbiting way-station. Nope, no blinking lights, it was the sun. There, just six planets away, on the one the natives called "Earth", his once trusted generals were doing three shows a night, six days a week.
Maybe this was how it was supposed to be. Maybe the Doomians were better off being the jesters instead of the emperors. Ah, there was the dull planet shaking quake that indicated the worker drones had finally burned through the main door. Next time he orders an ultimately secure protective fortress built into the center of the educational facility, he'd make quite certain that there was a handle on the inside of the door.
Krullux stood up from behind the shielding and brushed away a few specks of enforced titanium alloy from his sleeve. For the first time in nearly a week, he strode out of his office and into the long abandoned courtyard.
Yes, maybe he was doing the wrong thing by seeking eternal vengeance against the being who cursed his planet and his two accursed minions.
Maybe he shouldn't focus every waking thought, every sleepless night toward his goal of total and complete justice for the sociocide the creature inflicted. Krullux' people did seem happy enough, and Krullux certainly couldn't complain about the money he was getting from the royalties.
He sighed again, whistfully this time, and pulled his concussion gun to shatter the last few servants, just for old times sake.
"Is it ready?" Krullux asked the service bot that stood nearby. It blinked affirmatively, keeping several optical scanners fixed on Krullux' weapon. "Good, good", Krullux smiled. He looked at the trembling 'bot with fatherly concern, "And the screens, are they in place?" Again the robot blinked. Excellent. Krullux slowly strolled toward the control room, on the far side of campus.
Perfect. They'll never know what hit them.
It was like a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. He'd turned the page in his life. He decided that he wasn't vengeful, he was simply old fashioned.
"JB? Are you sure you're OK?" Chris listened to the door.
"Uh, yeah.", JB said back. Chris could tell that he wasn't at all certain of his reply.
"I thought I heard a scream."
"Oh. The, uh, shower was cold."
Chris frowned and glared. "Since when do you scream like a girl?"
"I do not!" a gruff voice called out from inside the bath. It was followed by a cough and JB repeated. "I do not!"
Chris stared at the closed door suspiciously. "Well hurry up in there, the plane arrives in two hours and you know how Dad hates waiting."
Chris was ticked that JB waited until pretty much the last minute to tell him that the parents were coming to town for the holidays. In the past few weeks they had raced all over Boise trying to make the Grayhound loft look less "bus station" and more home office.
Oddly, both Sandy and Zrng had been a huge help. Even Mark had been pressed into service updating portions of the loft, crafting elegant light fixtures and sconces. The kid had definite talent, Chris noted. It was going tio be a shame when he headed up to college next year at the University of Maple Ridge.
"Chris? I still need that budget analysis for next quarter." Sandy called from her desk.
Chris slowly turned to glare at her. "You're enjoying that, aren't you?" he grumbled.
Sandy rested her chin against her fist and smiled back, "More than you could ever imagine."
It was Zrng's idea. The cover story was that Chris and JB worked for Sandy. The loft was quickly converted into a live-in photo studio office. Once most of the junk was removed and sense was made of things, there was more than enough room. There was no need for a darkroom since everything was digital. Chris' blood still ran cold thinking about the cost of the large format dye sub printer but had to admit that Sandra's work looked stunning on the walls.
The loft looked nearly respectable. It better have, considering how much Chris had paid for all of it.
The bathroom door finally popped open and JB emerged. Chris nearly didn't recognize him. JB was wearing jeans, a button down shirt and a sweater. The lack of costume hit Chris like a ton of bricks. Chris really felt sorry for his brother. JB had tried everything to see if he could get back in touch with the Furlong and nothing had worked. JB took it hard, still not convinced that they were gone. Now, finally, he must have accepted the loss.
Chris walked over and hugged his brother. "Don't forget. I'm here for you, Brah." JB didn't hug back, and his expression shot from confused to angry to embarrassed. Chris knew that this must have been hard, and didn't want to dwell on it. Chris slapped his brother on the arm and smiled warmly. "C'mon. Let's get this over with."
Chris had to admit that he never noticed it before, but JB felt rock hard under that sweater. "Say, looks like you've been working out, JB."
JB hadn't said a word on the drive to the airport, and only a few words on the way back. No one noticed other than Chris, though, since their Mom did most of the talking anyway.
Chris made certain that the parents didn't come in the front door. Annie had decorated for the Holidays. Chris struggled with the bags as the rest of the group headed up the stairs. By the time he made it up his mother was talking with Sandra and his father was making light conversation with Mark. Chris took the bags toward the guest area.
"Chris?" his father's voice called out, "Oh, no, we've got a hotel room." Chris shot his brother an accusatory glance. JB had argued that the parents should stay with them. Chris had argued that the parents have never stayed with them, that they have gotten hotel rooms every single time they've ever left their house and that this would not be any different. Out of deference, Chris had given in, and had paid to put in the extra walls to build a guest room.
"Are you sure, we've got plenty of room." Chris said, continuing to burn holes into his brother.
"No, they're already paid for," his mother, Liz, "said, besides, you don't want us here while you're doing business."
"Actually, we're closed for the holidays." Sandra offered.
"No, no, you're a dear for even thinking about letting us impose, but no, really we can't." Liz was all smiles and determination.
Zrng jogged up the front stairs wearing a suit that Chris sincerely hoped he wasn't paying for. He took one look at Mrs. Reid and his head nearly split with a smile."Ah Buon Giorno! Hello!" Chris figured that he must have picked up some language lessons along with the suit. Zrng gave Mrs. Reid an Italian hug as well. Chris guessed he learned that one when the salesman found out Zrng hadn't run in terror form the price.
"Oh, Zarug? You work here too?" Liz said when she was returned to the ground.
"Yes, he's in charge of interstel--national business" Sandra corrected herself.
"International?" The senior Mr. Reid looked to Chris.
"We have to travel a lot. Zrng handles those arrangements and also helps with some out of town photographers who may drop by." Chris carefully lied.
"Well, the whole gang's here!" Liz said happily as she looked to JB. "I suppose that the only person missing is your girlfriend, is she stopping by?"
Chris dropped the suitcases.
"Careful, son!" His dad called out.
"Uh, Mom, Dad, can I talk to you...", Chris quickly walked over to the group and tried to hustle them away from JB who looked like a deer stuck in the headlights. He mentally kicked himself for not mentioning the fact that "JB's girlfriend" was now much more of a ghost than she had ever been, but then he had no idea that Ma new about--
"Uhm, I think she's working right now. I-- uhm-- I can go get her." And with that JB sprinted down the stairs.
There was an instant of pure silence in the loft as all eyes stared toward the rear staircase. All that they could hear were sounds coming from Annie's downstairs. He must have been watching roller derby.
"Liz," Mr. Reid said, "I keep telling you that boy's just not right in the head."
Liz shot her husband a withering look, "John.."
"Look, fine, but if he comes back up the stairs wearing a blonde wig and heels, we're getting him committed. Chris? Should we be looking up nut house numbers?"
Chris was speechless. What could he say? 'Mom? Dad? JB did have a girlfriend who was locked up in his head, then he was locked up in hers and now she's been blown to atoms and JB probably needs to be locked up?' No, that wouldn't work. His mind raced for anything to say. He looked to everyone else in the loft. It was quite apparent that they were all pretty much in the same state as he was.
The door opened, and a set of footsteps jogged up. Chris braced himself for whatever it was.
He obviously didn't brace himself enough.
Becky Sue walked in to the room. Very out of breath. "Uhm.. Mister-- and-- Mrs. Reid, Hiya, I'm Becky Sue McCallister. JB's told me so much about you!"
It was most decidedly not JB in a wig. Becky Sue was normally very pretty. She was now a complete knock out, if possibly a bit over (or under, depending on your point of view) dressed for the occasion.
She walked over and gave Liz a warm hug, then gave John an equally warm one. "JB's watchin' the store for me so's I can come up here and meet y'all."
Years of military training were not lost on Chris and JB's father. "I thought JB said you were doing work for the city?"
Becky Sue smiled warmly,"Yes, I was, but unfortunately there were budget cuts. Darn recession, an' all." Becky Sue never missed a beat. "Fortunately, JB managed to find a job for me with Annie so's we get to see each other more often."
"Oh, well, where do you work? We'll have to stop by sometime." The Colonel said.
Becky Sue looked more than a little uncomfortable. "Uh, I work at a place called Annie's. It's just a little shop, but it's full of dusty ol' things really."
"Well, that Annie sounds like a wonderful person. We should at least thank her.", Liz continued.
"Him." Zrng corrected.
"Himalayas! The Himalayas, that's where Annie is right now. She closed and important deal an' took some time off fer herself."
"Oh," Liz said disappointedly, "that's too bad. Still we could go there anyway so that you and JB can be together."
"NO!", Becky Sue said very emphatically, "it's a what? A Gamer shop. It's full of dusty games and stuff."
Liz looked uncomfortable, "Oh, you mean like JB used to play?"
"Uhm, yeah, sure. Exactly like what JB used to play."
"There's a bit of information I didn't need." Sandra added under her breath.
"Ah, well, we'll just stay up here then. All that Fantasy stuff is just too strange for me. If you don't mind me saying so dear, you don't strike me as the sort of person who would be into those sorts of things."
"I'd rather kiss a rattlesnake, ma'am, but it's payin' the bills." Becky Sue laughed. She glanced at the clock, "Oh, shoot, I'd better git back downstairs. It's pretty busy and I don't want to leave JB alone with the folks wanderin' in. He's probably goin' through the Yu-Gi-Oh cards right now. It's been an absolute pleasure meeting you two."
"Well, what time do you get off of work? We'll go have dinner."
"Dinner." Becky Sue said with a note of terror in her voice. "I'm sorry, but I've got to work real late tonight, what with the holiday shoppin' season an' all."
"Well, we're going to be here for a few days. How about this weekend."
"I know this sounds just horrible, but I've got to check and see. How about I tell JB when I'm free and we can go from there? Is that OK with y'all?"
"Sure thing. That Annie is a real slave driver, isn't she?"
"Only if you pay extra." Zrng mumbled. "Ow!" he said as a peanut ricocheted off of his sunglasses. Becky Sue gave him an evil glance and took another handful of nuts from the dish beside her.
"Yeah, well, she's awful nice and all, so I don't mind too much. So it was wonderful meeting y'all and I can't wait to meet you again." She gave them both hugs again and made her way back down the stairs.
"Christopher. That was horrible." Chris' mom scolded. "All the while she was here you stood there gawking."
"You blame the boy? Good Lord, she's a looker, and that dress was like a second skin."
"John! That's awful!" Liz said in disgust. "She's your son's girlfriend. You're old enough to be her father!"
"Or her son. OW!" A second peanut bounced off of Zrng.
"Still, I certainly hope that you're better behaved when she's normally around."
"He is, Liz," Sandy piped up. "it's just that Becky Sue wanted to make a nice impression with you, and she heard that you've got a great fashion sense. She saved up all month to get that outfit from a little boutique place that has the latest French trends. I told her it was too much but she's a sweet kid."
Sandy walked over to Chris and placed a firm finger into his chest. "Besides, you've got a girlfriend already, mister, or did you forget?" And with that she kissed Chris. On the lips. Before it completely registered, Sandra turned back to her desk and grabbed her bag. "I still need next quarter's budget numbers, Chris. Email'em to me before the end of the week." She turned again. "Mr. and Mrs. Reid, it's been a pleasure meeting you, but I've got to run Mark home. I hope that we can meet tomorrow night for dinner in a more casual environment? Great. I'll see you then. Come on, Mark, I want to get going before the traffic gets too bad. Mark quickly grabbed his jacket, shook hands and jogged down the stairs.
"Christopher? You never told us you were seeing someone!"
"Son, I've got to warn you about dating the boss, it's not a good situation you want to be in."
"Oh, let the boy be, John. He's an adult and able to make his own decisions. He's done quite well so far."
"Maybe, but he's still looks like a trout. Chris? Did you have a stroke son?"
"It's ok, Mom & Dad, Chris' had a rough few days." JB said as he came back up the stairs. He popped a few peanuts into his mouth.
"There you are," Liz said, "Becky Sue is a wonderful girl. Oh, looks like she got a bit of lipstick on you." she said as she wiped away familiar looking light pink lipstick from the corner of JB's mouth. "She's quite charming, but she works too much."
"I tell her that all the time." JB replied, "but she likes it down there. Particularly cleaning the rubber figures." JB twinged as if hit, but kept smiling.
"Well, I must say that I love this location." Liz said, changing the topic quickly. "It's so open and airy."
"Thanks, Mom. We recently redid a lot of it. I think it came out pretty well." JB said.
"Well, you did a wonderful job. I love this view you have of the city. Except..."
"Except what, Ma?" JB asked.
"Except I don't remember there being a big dog statue in the back."
Don't you just love it when your parents show up at a bad time?
Tune in next time for:
A Sniff and Whine
Previous Chapter Next Chapter