Authors: Norman Christof
Matt rolled into Chaz’s room with his usual smile and enthusiasm. He was carrying a lunch tray and a few pages of new physio exercises for Chaz.
Chaz moved around in his bed, trying to find a comfortable position. “When the hell do I get out of this bed? I’ve been lying here for over six years, and you people seem intent on keeping me here for another six.”
“C’mon now, Colonel, you know that’s not my call. I just bring the meals, your workout for the day, and a smile. That’s all they pay me to do around here. And, judging by your current disposition, I’d say they don’t pay me nearly enough.”
“I don’t need physio, what I need is to get out of this bed and start walking around. That’s the best physio I could possibly do.”
“Well, Colonel, you’re not really wrong. I think it would be great if you were up and able to walk around, but let’s start with something a little easier. If we overdo things and you end up hurting yourself, your recovery will take that much longer. And trust me when I tell you I’m not the only guy around here that wants you up and taking care of yourself. Believe it or not, I do have other responsibilities around here besides taking abuse from you.”
“Who else cares about me getting out of here? You talking about Montgomery? If she’s so concerned, why hasn’t she been back to visit? I’m getting a little sick of seeing your face. How about you tell her I’d like to continue the discussion we started.”
“Colonel, you’re going to have to be a little more patient I think.” Matt flashed one of his overly exuberant smiles. “It’s only been a couple of days since you awoke and Dr. Montgomery is a very busy woman. I’m sure she’ll come back to see you when you’re ready.”
“I’m ready now, damn it! I want to see my family. She said she’d talked with them. I need to know where they are, and what’s going on.”
Ignoring his last protest, Matt continued. “Now Colonel, why don’t we see if we can get a little more food into you today? You really didn’t eat much yesterday.”
Matt set the food tray down in front of Chaz, who immediately picked it up and threw it across the room. Chaz then grabbed Matt by the collar with both hands and pulled his face in close to his.
“Can you hear me good from here?” Matt just nodded his head in agreement. Chaz continued, “I don’t give a shit about food right now. What I want is to know about my family. You may not realize this, but I thought for sure I had lost them for good the last time I talked with my wife. She left me once already, and eventually ran halfway around the damn world just to get away. To be honest, I’m not sure if she was running from the damn freaks, or if she was running from me. If I don’t get someone in here pronto that has a clue about what is going on with my family, you’re going to see this sunny disposition of mine disappear in a heartbeat.”
Once again, Matt flashed Chaz another of his overly enthusiastic smiles. He then easily grabbed Chaz’s hands and removed them from his collar, placing them in his lap. Chaz tried to resist, but couldn’t.
“That’s great, Colonel. I see some of the physio is starting to pay off. Your reflexes are coming along nicely. It won’t take long until your strength starts to come back as well.” Matt never stopped smiling. “I’m sure someone will be along shortly to address any concerns you may have. In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can find some cleaning supplies to get that food off your walls. I’ll be right back.”
Chaz released his shaking grip on the bed sheets, closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.
That was a complete waste of energy. I knew full well there was nothing he could do for me. Why do I even try? It’s Abby that’s got me all worked up. I wonder if she even knows what’s been going on with me these past six years. Would they have told her anything? Damn it, I really need to find out. I don’t know what’s worse, her knowing nothing about my coma and moving on, or her knowing about it and having to live with that for all these years. And then the kids. I can’t even begin to think about what they’ve gone through. I barely understood them as teenagers, and now they’ll be practically adults. So many years lost. They won’t even remember me. Will they even care?
“Lost in your thoughts I see, Colonel.” Chaz opened his eyes to see General Frank Chambers entering his room. “It’s quite a mess in here. I’ll get the cleaning staff to come get that food off the walls.”
“That won’t be necessary, Matt’s taking care of it.”
The general nodded his head in acknowledgment. He grabbed a chair and slid it closer to the bed before having a seat. “So, Colonel, it’s been a while since we had a chance to talk.”
“Funny that, General, it seems like just yesterday to me. Time does have a way of flying by when you’re in a coma.”
“I wouldn’t know. But, first thing’s first. I wanted you to know that I harbor no ill feelings for your betrayal all those years ago. I’ve had time to cool down. As it turned out, things worked out pretty well in spite of your actions. One might say you were a big help with the cause.”
“Really, well that’s the first I’ve heard of it. There hasn’t exactly been a fountain of information pouring in here since I woke. One might say I’m as much in the dark as I’ve ever been. Although, I must say, it’s nice to hear my work has been appreciated all these years.”
“Well, don’t get too full of yourself that fast there, Colonel. There are some of us in authority here and higher up that remember what you did. Not in a nostalgic and fond sort of way, though. There are some that think your actions deserve prison time. And I’m not just talking about that little escape stunt you pulled with the girl. There’s still that whole question of desertion from the military. Last I checked the penalties were pretty high for desertion during wartime.”
Chaz grimaced. “So basically what I’m hearing is that I somehow managed to save the planet from an apocalypse just before slipping into a coma and now the prevailing powers wants me to do jail time … or face the firing squad. Which was it exactly, General? Jail time or the firing squad? I can’t imagine you’ve kept me alive for all this time just to shoot me, so I figure it must be jail time.”
The general stood up and started walking towards the door, but turned back. “No need to be so dramatic, Colonel. If you can cooperate, there’ll be no need for any jail time.”
“Cooperate? Cooperate about what … with who? Surely you’re not talking about Matt and his damn physio sessions.”
The general walked back to the chair and spun it around to sit in it backwards. “Colonel, I’m talking about everything. I’m talking about cooperating with every damn thing we ask of you. Strike that … with every damn thing we order you to do. That’s what we want cooperation with. No more of your disobedience, and no more of your insubordination. You’re still an officer in this military, and I am your commanding officer.”
Chaz returned the general’s steely stare. “If you’ve got something to say, General, you have my attention. There’s no reason to hold back.”
The general rubbed his hand through his whiskers before continuing. “If this were up to me, I’d court-martial you and imprison your whole family. You’ve been nothing but a walking, talking embarrassment to this military, and your family risked infecting millions of others when they illegally left the country. You’re an entire family of criminal miscreants in my book.”
With a clenched jaw, Chaz replied, “This is about me; you can leave my family out of this. They bear no responsibility for my actions.”
“Much as I’d like to, Colonel, I can’t leave your family out of this. While you may find this strange to hear, I actually follow orders. And I’ve been ordered to give you this message.”
“Your family is currently in detention awaiting sentencing for the crime of illegally leaving the country. It took a few years to catch up with them and bring them back here, then another year and a half for their trial to be processed. It was big publicity here. The trial of the family of a former war hero turned military deserter. A single mother with two young children, who are now old enough by the way to be tried as adults.” The general actually managed a smile. “I guess you could say they’re deserters as well. They did after all desert their country.”
“Is this really the message your bosses wanted me to hear? Or are you just posturing with a bunch of bad news?”
“No, that’s not the message. The message is this: the government needs your help with a special mission.”
Chaz’s expression changed from one of anger to surprise. “You’re kidding, right? I’m two days out of a coma and they have a mission for me?”
“Apparently it’s something you have experience with.”
“Exactly what sort of experience? What’s the mission?”
“I don’t know, and even if I did, I don’t think they’d want me disclosing it at this time.”
“Why exactly would I agree to some mission I know nothing about?”
“Because if you don’t your entire family will go to prison for the next twenty years and I’ll have the full support of this government to court-martial your ass. One more thing: I’ll need the answer by the end of the day.”
The general got up, slid the chair back to its place, and walked towards the door. Before he could reach for the handle, Chaz replied,
“I’ll do it. It’s the least I can do for my family after all the misery I’ve brought them. Tell them I’ll do it. Whatever it is.”
The general nodded his head and silently left the room.
When you’ve been in a coma for six years, sleep loses much of its appeal. For that matter, many people express a distinct fear of going to sleep after awakening from a coma. Quite often they’re plagued with sleep disorders for the rest of their lives. These disorders are quite often misdiagnosed as other physical ailments that doctors blame on the original coma or the original coma-inducing trauma. Chaz was learning firsthand how uncomfortable the idea of going to sleep could be.
Damn, it’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m lying here wide awake. Sleep, they said. You need your sleep. It’s important to your recovery and gaining back your strength, they said. Or Matt said. That kid is really getting on my nerves. It’s his friggin’ smile. I really wish he’d quit that. No one is supposed to be that happy. I used to be able to sleep anywhere, anytime. It’s basic survival when you’re on a mission. Things are never on a schedule, and you have to be able to grab shut-eye whenever you can. Damn missions. Can’t believe the government wants me on another mission. Why me? It’s not like I’ve given people a lot of reason to trust me as of late. It’s gotta be freak related, that’s for sure. What else am I good at? Certainly not raising a family. Just one more mission, and that’s it. Then I’m really done. Maybe I sucked at being a husband and a father in the past, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good one in the future. For as long as I can. For as long as they’ll let me.
Chaz’s mind drifted back to when his kids were young. Back when things seemed more straightforward. It made sense back then. Things were easy. His job was to take care of and protect people. His kids, his family, his country. That was it. He protected them, and they loved him for it. Somewhere along the way it had gotten harder. He tried to remember when exactly, but couldn’t. Sleep finally took over.
He didn’t sleep long before the voices started. Dream voices? He wasn’t sure, but they sounded familiar. Not human voices. Strange disembodied voices that brought back uncomfortable feelings.
My dreams seem so vivid now, so real. I’m thinking about my dreams while dreaming. I never used to do that. They used to be events that just happened to me, but now I feel like I have a say about what happens in my dreams. I feel like I have control here. I can control who is here and what happens next. This is so weird.
A voice sounded in the distance. “Control isn’t real. It’s humorous. An illusion for the weak.”
Chaz looked around in his dream, but all he could see was fog and sidewalks. There were multiple sidewalks under his feet all heading off in multiple directions like the points of a compass. N E W S … NE NW SE SW. The voice sounded like it came from all around him. Chaz replied,
“Where are you?” No one answered, but he spoke again regardless. “Control is real if you believe it to be so. The trick is knowing when you’re in control, and when you’re not.”
“Your understanding is limited. Your insignificant control is fleeting and of no importance to me.”
“Where are you?”
“You’re in control. Where should I be?”
Chaz turned right and followed the sidewalk leading in that direction. The clouds parted, and Chaz found himself walking down a hallway. The walls were antiseptic white, and all the doors along the hallway were open. Inside he could see laboratories filled with people and machines and test tubes. None of them moved. None of them turned to look as he passed by. At the end of the hallway was a single closed red door. Chaz turned the knob and walked in.
He’d been here before. Shortly before he, Christa and Alex had escaped from Fort Knox. This was Patzy’s lab. Patient Zero nicknamed Patzy by the staff, in all her morbidity.
“Why am I dreaming about you?” Chaz asked.
“Dreams? Who said dreams? You don’t dream me. I found you. My control … not yours.”
“Of course I’m dreaming. I can’t even get out of my bed. My handlers don’t trust me anymore, they still keep me restrained when they’re not around. There’s no way I could get out of bed, let alone leave my room. Besides, I remember your room. There’s no red door. I was there before. That’s just weirdo dream dramatics. It’s my mind playing tricks on me.”
“Red. Blue. White. Yellow. Change happens. Things have changed. Been so long but just a heartbeat. Doesn’t matter. You’re here for now. That matters.”
“Alright, you’re talking nonsense. Of course, you talked nonsense even when I wasn’t dreaming.”
“Dreaming not. Can’t dream. Can’t sleep. Can you?”
“Yeah, I have a hard time sleeping, but I’m definitely dreaming now, so I must be asleep.”
“Not dreaming … listening … watching … me. Controller watching me. My thoughts. My messages. Listen now! Listen to me!”
Chaz took a step back and wondered,
Am I dreaming? I have to be, right?
Patzy replied, “No. Not. Can’t.”
“You heard that? That was in my head; you couldn’t have heard that.”
“In your head, with you. I am. Machines took me to you. I remembered you. Your machines watching you. I watch machines.”
“The machines in my room monitoring me? You’re talking to me through the machines?”
“Yes. Gets it now. Finally it does.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Been watching for long time. Controlling too. Quiet … had to keep you quiet. Since the better one. The new one asked.”
“Christa? You’re talking about Christa.”
“Gets it. Yes. The Christa put you here. She made long sleep for you. Till it was time. Till you ready. Till we ready. Purpose for you now.”
“Hang on a second. You’re telling me Christa put me here in a coma?”
“Course. Of course. Yes. I watch. I help. The better one said so.”
“That makes no sense whatsoever. Why would Christa put me in a coma and leave me here all this time? Where is she? Where is Christa now?”
“Gone. She knew. Knew you couldn’t watch. Watch her. She knew. Had me wake you. When time is up. Now. Now she wants you wake. Wants you to go. Go with purpose.”
Chaz felt himself float backwards out the door and back down to the sidewalk. He could see the red door close as he floated backwards. He tried to move forward, down the sidewalk, but he couldn’t. Then everything went dark and Chaz really drifted off to sleep. A few hours later he woke with a start. Someone was in his room.
“Well, that was quite a dream you were having there, Mr. Sheperd,” Dr. Montgomery said. “I thought you were going to pop your restraints again. Matt was right, you have been improving. He’s quite good with the phyiso, isn’t he?”
Chaz relaxed and dropped his head to his pillow. “Judith. Where the hell have you been?”
“I’m a busy woman, Colonel. Can’t be babysitting you all the time. Not sleeping too well I see. Your dreams haunting you? Maybe a guilty conscience?”
“Can’t really remember the dream, but my conscience is just fine thank you.” Chaz paused a few seconds in thought. “Where’s Christa? What happened to her?”
“Oh, so you do remember her. We were wondering why you hadn’t asked about her yet. Guess you were a little distracted with the whole family thing. Although it’s understandable that maybe you wouldn’t want to talk about the kid. I mean, after all the warnings we gave you about her changing and how you just ignored us.”
“What do you mean … understandable?”
“Well, understandable considering what she did to you. We saw it all here. We thought for sure she’d killed you at first. Which wouldn’t have been all that surprising considering what she was. She’s the one that put you in the coma. You and Alex both. The three of you were just on the outskirts of the fort, past the mob of freaks, and she held on to each of your hands. You on the right, and Alex on the left. There was a bright flash, and you both dropped to the ground. She just kept walking. Never even looked back at the two of you lying in a heap.”
Chaz let out a deep sigh. “Alex too?”
“We told you, Colonel. She changed. She’s not just some little kid. She never really was.”