If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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The doc stared at us intently, thoughtfully, as if summing up the situation.
Then, without saying a word to us, she lifted her wrist, and spoke into her phone. “Stasis: singular. Modal: Jump 2 negative. Targets: 2 male. Position: Level 4, room 228B. Check count: 13:27:05, 06, 07…Mark: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…”
She moved closer to me.
Then she looked at us while continuing to count down slowly, and smiled with closed, narrow lips. And something in her expression chilled me right through. I didn’t know what this all meant, and what all her phone-speech meant, but had a horrible feelings things were about to go very, very wrong.
I also had a strong feeling it would be a great idea to get out of here. Right now. Real fast. I looked at Daniel, and he was climbing out of his chair, all pretense at bravado forgotten. He knew something was going down, and he didn’t want to be here when it happened.
And I know Daniel has a sixth sense about being in the right place at the right time, just as he has a seventh sense about when to get the hell out of a situation before it goes bad. And I trust him, and if he was moving, it was time to move.
The count down continued: “…4, 3, 2, 1…”
Then – at the exact moment she said “zero” – the door to the examination room opened, and when I whirled around to see who was entering, I almost collapsed in shock.
It was the doc – a complete duplicate of her – standing in the doorway, like a nighmare angel of death in a lab coat.
The newcomer had the same perfect, shiny black hair, coiled in a bun at the nape of her neck. The same perfect white teeth. Same black pants and sneakers, and same white lab coat. And inside me I knew, somehow – in my gut – that I wasn’t looking at a twin, or at someone who just happened to look an awful lot like the doc.
I was looking at another copy of the exact same person.
My brain began to throb, and the blood in my temples began to pound, and the whole room seemed to spin and twist. The air in the room seems to thicken like a gel, so thick that I felt I was underwater and couldn’t breathe, and once again like someone was holding me down.
And in that same split second I tried to remember when I’d last had that godawful feeling of drowning, and being held underwater, because it was so familiar and it gave me a sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’d been here and had this exact same experience before.
And then it came back to me: at the riot, just before I’d fallen over.
I tried to speak, and say, What the hell? but all that came out was, “Whaaaaa…?” My arms and legs felt like they were encased in lead, and my head felt heavy, my wits dull and slow.
Before I knew it, the duplicate doc had moved over to an equally stunned Daniel, and grabbed his calico bag from the desktop where he’s laid it, all within an eyeblink, faster than I would have believed it possible for any human to move.
The duplicate doc was out of the room before I had a chance to think or act.
The second doc, the original, snatched my bag from my shoulder before I had a chance to realise what was going on, or react in any way. I was glued down, stuck in the thickened air like I was standing in jelly. The doc turned on her heel, and left the room.
The air relaxed, like a huge fist had suddenly and completely relaxed its grip over us, and I found myself gasping for breath; breathing in glorious mouthfuls of pure, thin, normal air, rich with oxygen.
And the two of us, who just moments before had been congratulating ourselves on outsmarting a good looking chick, gasped and stared at each other, and said in unison to one another:
“What the fuck was that?”
Daniel shook his head, still clearly stunned by this turn of events. He was breathing hard, and sat down in his chair again, clearly needing to rest and recover a little.
And I turned and somehow found the strength to run out of the room ready to follow the docs. But the moment I got to the door and looked out, the corridor outside was deserted. The doc was gone. The duplicate had disappeared as well.
There was no-one around, and nothing to show for our morning’s heist.
We were screwed.
“Gone,” I said to Daniel, coming back into the exam room. “No sign of them anywhere. And what the crap was that? Twins? Evil twins? Did my life suddenly change somehow? Please tell me I’m not seeing things again. Please tell me I just imagined that shit.”
I walked over to the hospital stretcher and sat down heavily, my mind still trying to catch up on the last few minutes of my life. “No – wait. On second thoughts, please tell me I’m seeing things. Because it will make all this shit one helluva lot easier for my brain to deal with.”
“I saw it all too,” said Daniel, rising from his plush chair. He looked like a deflated pigeon, all the stuffing taken out of him, all his pomp and prowess from only minutes before now completely gone. “I don’t get any of this. What was that? A robot? An evil twin from Star Trek? I’m stumped.”
But I knew it wouldn’t take long for Daniel – king of the Dunedin black market – to find his feet again. Even as I looked at him, I could see him recovering. He raised his head, as if realising he’s forgotten something.
Everything about his demeanour changed. He puffed up visibly, and started to grin.
“What?” I asked, irritated by our losses, confused by the duplicate doctors, and beginning to wonder how we were going to get out of the hospital without further mishap. “What now? What on earth are you grinning about?”
“They didn’t get them all.”
“Huh? All what?”
I’d forgotten about the drugs. Screw the fricking drugs!
He gave me a huge toothy smile, and pulled three packs of panadeine forte from his jeans pocket, with a triumphant glow in his face.
“These are the days of miracle and wonder, mate,” he said. “And the biggest fricking wonder of them all is…yours truly! Check ’em out.” He waved the drugs in my face, backwards and forwards in circles and figure eights, like some TV hostess from the last century showing off the prizes on a game show.
He laughed out loud then and, despite our losses and the fact we were stuck in an examination room somewhere in the hospital, I couldn’t help but laugh too. The guy was such an egotist. Maybe that was why I loved him so much. What a bastard.
“Three packs, huh?” I said, nonchalantly. “Is that the best you could do?”
“I love you too, honey,” I grinned. “You know what? I don’t give a shit about the drugs. Screw the drugs!” Then I changed my mind. “Actually, drugs, yeah, sounds great. Let’s get home, do some weed, and I reckon all this weird stuff will disappear, and I’ll soon be feeling all right again.”
“But don’t you get it?” asked Daniel, a surprised look on his face. “It’s all about the drugs. All this. Everything. That doc – and you can kiss my arse if she is a doc – is right in the middle of some bizarre drug test, and we’ve stubled on to it. I want to know what’s going on. This could screw my entire business prospects. I need to know what’s going on.”
“C’mon, then, let’s get out of here. We can figure out what’s going on when we’re clear of this place. But the sooner we’re out of this bloody hospital, the better.”
We took off our white lab coats, and threw our stethoscopes down together with the coats in a bundle behind the desk, figuring they were less likely to be found quickly if they were out of a direct line of sight. Then we left the room, and I followed Daniel to the stairwell. “I’m guessing the lifts cameras might be on the lookout for a couple of handsome guys like us,” he said.
There were no cameras in the stairwell. Typical hospital, cutting budget corners where possible. My guess was that the stairwell cameras the hospital would have been sent were long gone on the black market, sold by some high-level bigwig for a trick or two. CCTV lenses fetch a high price in certain quarters, I thought, remembering how Daniel had smashed the camera in the lift. Yeah, we’ll be in trouble all right.
Four levels down, and Daniel led me through an intricate maze of service corridors that got progressively smaller and less pristine as we travelled. “How do you know your way around here, anyway?” I asked him.
“Business,” he replied hastily, “Now…the loading docks should be here somewhere if I’m right…ahhh!”
The small corridor we were in opened up to a wide loading bay, with metal roller doors open to an alleyway. The whole huge area was filled with pallets weighed down with every type of medical requirement imaginable.
There was also a guard, but he was sitting in a corner out of the wind and seemed far more interested in lighting his cigarette than in keeping watch. We nipped around the back of some crates, and easily avoided his notice, while he battled the wind with his lighter. Soon we were out in the alleyway, walking briskly through to a main road, past parked trucks labelled with the names of huge medical companies and food suppliers.
“Well, that was easy,” I said.
“Too easy,” answered Daniel.
Damn! I knew he was going to say that! I said, “I need food.” I hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning – before my sushi had been nicked – and although these days you’re pretty used to being hungry, two days is a bit much. “Let’s go home and get some food. There’s got to be something in a cupboard if I look hard enough.”
“Naah,” said Daniel. “Tina’s. She owes you one, for that terrific arse-shot on Facebook. Besides, she might be able to help us figure out what this stuff we’ve gone to the trouble of getting really is. Because I’m damned if I reckon it’s really panadeine forte.”
His plan sounded reasonable, and I had to admit that the chances of finding food at Tina’s were better than finding anything remotely digestible in any of our cupboards at home. And she lived a whole lot closer, which was a major winner, as I was still aching and sore, and had absolutely no desire to walk half the city back to Castle Street.
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Tina lived on Leith Street, a short walk away from the hospital and, thank God, on the flat. Even so, by the time we arrived at her door, I’d realised how every single muscle in my body was aching, and that I was absolutely famished.
Tina’s flatemate, Kayly, answered the door. “Oh God, not you two,” she said, half-jokingly, moving aside to let us in off the street, and into the dark, narrow corridor. The usual assortment of electronic leftovers, gutted machines, wiring and plastic junk cases stood piled up in the hallway, covered in dust. Yeah, some things never change. “She’s in the back.”
We walked through to the kitchen in the back end of the house, and found Tina sitting at the kitchen table, mug of tea in one hand while she typed away at a keyboard with the other. “Cheers, big ears,” she said to me affectionately, hardly bothering to look up. “I’ll be with you in a mo’. ”
“Mind if we grab something to eat?” asked Daniel. “Lover boy here,” he indicated me, “Will keel over if he doesn’t get something in his stomach soon. And a drink of something other than that crap you’re knocking back would be nice.”
“It’s herbal,” rebuked Tina, pausing from her typing, and looking up at Daniel with a smile. Yeah, she’s always had a thing about Daniel. Pity he doesn’t probably wouldn’t notice her if she stripped and did the polka. Okay, maybe then, but you get my point. The guy was a bit ignorant of Tina. Didn’t stop her trying, though. “It’s good for you. Relaxing. Soothing. And home-grown.”
“The only home-grown I’m interested in is weed,” he replied. “But pot noodle would be good. Got any?”
Tina nodded towards a corner cupboard, then sighed, finished typing whatever she was working on, and rolled up her laptop. “So…” she said, looking across at me, while Daniel rummaged in the cupboard in search of pot noodle, “What brings you here?”
I heard an “Aha!” from the kitchen behind Tina: Daniel had struck pot luck. Then he grumbled. “Chicken. Why is it always fricking chicken?”
“I’m Asian,” said Tina. “What else did you expect? But there’s pork in the other cupboard to your right.”
“Naah, I’m feeling a bit Jewish today. The chicken’ll do.”
“It’s a long story,” I said, ignoring all this interaction, and replying to Tina’s question. “But we’ve sort of stumbled into something that you might be able to help us with. Daniel?”
Daniel put the kettle down he’d been filling with water, and pulled a packet of drugs from his pocket, throwing it across to Tina. She caught it, and gave it a bored glance. “Panadeine forte. Co-codamol. Common pain relieving drug. Sells for a few hundred on the market. So what?”
“Panadeine forte, my arse,” said Daniel. “Sweetheart here took a dose this morning, came up all trippy and had visions of 19th century Dunedin and whacked-out Cathedral singers in dresses, and a guy in Victorian garb shooting himself. Plus, we just had a rather in-ter-es-ting meeting with a fake doctor at the hospital, who has an evil robot twin. Or that’s what I think it was. And if Mike, here, can come up with a better desciption of what we’ve just been through, he’s welcome to try.” Daniel waltzed over to the kitchen table, sat down next to Tina, passed a cup of noodle to me, and started stirring his own pot noodle.
“No, mate,” I said. “You nailed it.”
Tina started to look interested, “I think you guys have been doing too many spikes,” she said. “But let’s take a look.” She opened the box of panadeine forte up, and pulled the plastic blister packs out. Then she looked back at us both again, slowly. “I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t panadeine forte.”
“That’s what I said,” I stated.
“It’s not any of the standard government-release pain relievers either,” she continued. “I don’t know what it is. So – where did this come from, and what did it do to you again?”
Briefly I ran through the events of the day, since waking and taking a dose in the morning. Tina listened intently, then said: “Let’s take a look at one of these babies, then, and try to work out exactly what you swallowed.” She popped a plastic blister pack open, and took a pill out.
“Okay, now thaaaaaat’s interesting,” she said, peering at the capsule.
“What is?” I asked.
“Take a look at this,” she said, grabbing a pen from the kitchen bench beside her, and flicking it on. I leaned in, and looked at closely at the pill. “See that?” She indicated a fine line running around the middle of the pill. “It’s hollow. Or filled with something. Certainly not solid, which is what you’d expect from a drug of this type.”
She stood up, and walked out to the bathroom, which was attached to the back end of the kitchen, returning some moments later with a pair of tweezers. Then she grabbed a plate from a cupboard, squirted it with a glob of hand-san, and waited for the hand-san to dry.
“I’m going to open it up, and check out what’s inside” she said. Using the tweezers, she carefully attempted to pry apart the two hemispheres of the pill. The pill wouldn’t open. Then:
“Ah!” Tina’s whole face lit up with a wild thrill that worried me. “Get a look at this – ” She changed her grip on the capsule, one hemisphere each between finger and thumb on each hand, and twisted the pill apart. “Screw thread. Not your typical capsule at all…”
A fine silvery dust fell in light showers on to the plate she’d hand-sanned and which now, I realised, she’d prepared to catch the contents of the drug. The girl is good, I thought, with admiration.
Carefully discarding the empty pill shell to one side of the plate, she prodded at the silvery dust with her tweezers.
“And?” asked Daniel, leaning over with curiosity.
“This isn’t a drug,” said Tina, slowly, “Although I’ve heard of stuff like this, I’ve never seen it before, not here in Dunedin. Watch!” She grabbed my pot noodle and, as I protested feebly, poured a tiny amount of the broth onto the plate, and over the silvery dust.
Immediately it sprang to life. Before our eyes, the dust arranged itself into tiny globules, and the globules gradually formed tiny insect-like creatures – smaller than a pinhead – that scurried to and fro on the plate.
Looking closely, I could almsot make out tiny, spider-like legs, much, much thinner and finer than a hair, and smaller than dust particules, motoring the tiny creatures to and fro across the plate.
“Nanobots,” said Tina, stunned and thrilled at the same time. “These aren’t drugs. They’re delivery systems for nanorobots.”
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