Finding a doctor in the backwater area of the Underurbs we found ourselves in was not an easy task. People with any real medical expertise tended to be well-paid and got good jobs surfaceside at hospitals and pharmaceutical corporations. And even those doctors who did run clinics in the Underurbs steered clear of this particular district. Most difficult of all was the fact that Kris and I were now escaped fugitives and any legitimate doctor would run standard background checks which could potentially lead to our recapture. Both Kris and I agreed that that would still be safer than risking surgery with one of the local illegitimate doctors, however.
In the end, Kris rented a derelict medbot in exchange for what provisions we had left. The bot had been stolen from an Alarborian hospital then jury-rigged by an Underurb hacker to work for gangsters after a raid or firefight. It was quirky and more than a little outdated, but I was glad that we didn't have to risk exposing our story to anyone else. The last thing I wanted was to get caught.
Even still, it was hours before Kris managed to secure the medbot. I was left in a looted warehouse with nothing but hope and prayers to see me through until Kris returned.
"I'd leave you with the cutting torch for protection," said Kris, "but I'll probably need to sell it in order to pay for your treatment."
By the time she did come back, I was in bad shape. I had broken out into a cold sweat and the pain had reached such an intensity that I could barely think. I think I may have been delirious, for I kept thinking I saw things moving in the shadows, trying to get to me.
I don't remember much of what happened after that. Perhaps that was because I was teetering on the very edge of consciousness already, or because of the anesthetic the medbot administered to me shortly afterward. All I know is that when I woke up I was no longer in that warehouse, but in a smaller, cleaner room on a makeshift bed of old drop cloths. Light radiated feebly from a sputtering argon bulb that was screwed into a cobwebby cradle on the ceiling. Its dim, purplish glow illuminated towers of mildew-coated boxes stacked against the walls, from whose tops spewed avalanches of dusty, unidentifiable goods.
As I slowly came to my senses, I became aware of noises coming from the next room. Footsteps. I raised my head a little just as Kris came around the corner. Her face lit up when she saw me.
"You're awake!" she cried dropping quickly to my side.
I tried to sit up, but found that it hurt too much to do so. "How long have I been out?" I croaked. My throat was extremely dry.
"A couple of days," said Kris. She grinned broadly at me. "You were in bad shape. But you're more or less fixed up now — you'll live."
"That's a relief," I murmured. I looked around the room. "Where are we?"
"It's a tenement I found yesterday," said Kris. "Mostly it's rented out to really poor people or squatted on by bums. A guy named Sunry is letting us stay in his basement for a few days, thus the charming accommodations."
"That was nice of him," I said.
"Not really," said Kris. "It's not as though he's feeding us or sharing any of his precious water with us. I think mainly he's worried that the gangs might wreck up the place while he's gone and he'd rather have us here to deter them."
I nodded. It was typical Underurb survivalist mentality. It was a rough world to live in and one had to constantly be looking out for oneself to stay alive.
"And if the gangs do show up?" I asked nervously.
"Well, I've got this now." Kris drew a tarnished laser pistol from under her shirt. I raised my eyebrows.
"I stole it from some thugs who tried to mug me our first night in that warehouse," explained Kris, thankfully saving me the trouble of formulating a question myself. "Poor guys. Unlike me, they didn't have years of experience fighting at the Arena under their belts."
I smiled weakly, remembering my first fight with her. It didn't do to underestimate the Phoenix.
Over the next few days, I gradually improved. Soon I was able to walk around under my own power again — although admittedly, there was very little point, seeing as Sunry's basement was very small, and Kris refused point blank to let me leave the apartment.
The basement was not a very comfortable place to live, but it was better by far than my cell back at the Arena and it felt positively wonderful merely to know that I was free of that awful place. I was hungry most of the time, but Kris managed to keep us from starving, through stealing mostly. Part of me felt guilty that we had to take from others who were already so disadvantaged, but I also knew that their need probably couldn't be greater than ours. Still, I was constantly worried that Kris would get caught. As tough as she was, the Underurbs was a dangerous neighborhood. I had a feeling that sooner or later, something was going to go awry and we would be found out.
I wasn't wrong.