A list of things Tosh didn't want to do today:

  • Play taxi driver for Bright and her smelly, half-dead friend
  • Play doctor for Bright and her smelly, half-dead friend
  • Miss dinner

But here I am, just the same, benevolent idiot that I am. Bright's right; can't just leave the guy when I'm his only chance. Bad mojo.

Crouching down in the hallway, I start my examination by peeling off the old dude's jacket to get a better look. Aside from some minor cuts and scrapes and some weird bruising on one arm, he seems fine up top. "Got two visible leaks in him- looks like one shot just grazed his belly, but that's a nasty hole in his left thigh."

"Okay," Bright responds in her infuriating monotone. I really have no clue what she expects me to do. I take a moment to consider my surroundings. A wide hallway, poorly lit, in a rundown mid city building.  At one end of the hall, the lift we came up in, with its cumbersome sliding doors, which Bright has cleverly had automated. At the the other end, like the light at the end of the tunnel, are the doors to the cleanroom. Between the two, myself and this- I nervously check his pulse- still half-dead guy. I peer up at the ceiling, eyes searching for the security camera she's watching us through. I know it's there somewhere, I installed it.  Finding it, I crane my neck and stare, the closest I'll get to making eye contact with Bright, and wait for her to continue.

"I need you to get the bullet out of his leg."

I do a double take- from the camera to his bloody leg, back to the camera. "Wait- shouldn't his 'machines be taking care of this crap?"

"That's the problem- all his tech is down," she snaps at me, as though this should have been obvious. "It has to be something to do with that slug."

A light goes on in my head. Now I see why this matters so much.  If there's one thing in this whole miserable world Bright cares about, it's tech. In her mind, it's the only thing that's clean.

I know it's not going to do any good to argue with her. "All right, so how do I get it out?" A long silence provides me with no answers. I'd already protested that I'm not a doctor, but the bigger problem is that neither is Bright.

Waiting, I listen to the hum of the ventilation system. It's been a while since I've been inside the ancient, abandoned warehouse Bright calls "the Sanctum". I've never been into the cleanroom, the chamber that separates Bright's space from the rest of the building. Maybe a handful of people have. I doubt anyone has been beyond it in years but her.

"I'm working on pulling up the old med databases, but you know how those servers can be-- it's going to take a minute."

"Yeah, cleaning out the cobwebs, okay." I let my head fall back against the wall, mirroring my charge's posture. His chest moves, almost imperceptibly, with each ragged, shallow breath. "Hey- I may not be an expert on this kind of thing, but I'm not sure he's got a minute." The urgency I felt only minutes before is fading fast, leaving me tired, resigned. Hungry.

"Do you have a knife?"

"Yeah, but it's not exactly sterile." I brace myself before asking the question. "Can I move him into the cleanroom?" I can practically hear her brain turning it over, grinding fact against fear. "Brightling, please." I just want to get this over with.

The doors swoosh open and I drag him into the air shower, where we wait to be decontaminated. The airlock-style chamber isn't really designed for two people. It takes some careful positioning to get us both inside so the door can close.  There's a mechanical clank, and a torrent of air whooshes up from the ground. For an instant, I feel like I'm falling.  A wildly bright light snaps on and scans the height of the chamber. I throw an arm over my eyes as it passes my head. After a thoroughly disorienting fifteen seconds, a green light and a pleasant tone usher us into the cleanroom.

I lay my patient out on the pristine white tile, and look through the glass into the Inner Sanctum, the space where Bright lives. I don't see her at's like looking for a chameleon.  She's pale as a ghost, and only wears white, making her nearly invisible against the white walls and surfaces of the room. There's a flutter of movement. and light glints off the shiny metallic circles on her temples. Must be part of some new upgrade. Commercially available mods are designed to have a minimal surface footprint, preserving a "normal" appearance. Practically none of Bright's mods are street-legal, and it's not like she minds how they look.

She sees me, and gives me a curt little wave, then goes back to doing twenty things at once, like usual. Yeah, right now she's trying to talk me through triage, but I bet she's also watching the news, reading a story, and god knows what else. It's just how she is, always multitasking.

Me, I'm a one thing at a time sort of guy. "What now?"

"You're going to need to get that bullet out with your knife."

Great. I tear the hole in his pants open wider and stare into the bullet hole. Ugh. I've gotten used to the sight of his blood, but the thought of mucking around with a blade in this dude's leg makes my stomach do somersaults.

Something in the back of my brain reminds me that I'm doing this to help Bright.  I'd made a big deal about her owing me for this one, but heaven knows she's bailed me out of some tight spots before.  She's a tough customer, but she takes care of her own. That in mind, I grip his leg, easily covering the width of his thigh with my hand, and dig in with my knife.

The resistance is horrible. I wince as I turn the blade, searching for the slug. I have no idea what I'm doing. The blood starts to gush, making it impossible to see what I'm hitting with the knife. There, the blade bumps against something hard.  I jab at it a little, and it moves enough that I'm pretty sure it's not a bone or anything that's supposed to be there.  "I think I've found it, but I don't know if I can--" I wiggle the knife a little, in an aimless attempt to raise the bullet out of the mess.

The patient's leg twitches violently in protest, wrenching the knife out of my hand. He lets out a choked, sputtering cry. Startled, I jump backwards, just reacting-- but not fast enough to get out of the way as his other leg kicks forward, the heel of his boot delivering a crushing, targeted blow to my balls.

Swearing, I collapse sideways as nauseating waves of pain radiate from my crotch. Uneven footsteps shuffle towards me. Struggling onto my back, I glance up to find him glaring down at me, his teeth bared in a grimace of pain, my knife in his hand.

"The hell were you doing?" he breathes.

I'm genuinely afraid for my life.


The End

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