‘Are you awake, Mrs Pelligonium?’ Doctor Crimson Atak kept his eyes on the monitors. He wasn’t surprised by either the lack of response, nor the messages conveyed by the myriad machines. He nodded to the nurse on the other side of the bed and spun away. As he moved past a young sandy haired man dressed in an almost identical fashion to him – white shirt and tight rolled sleeves – he paused. The younger man looked nervous, however, unlike his senior colleague. ‘Well?’
Doctor Humphrey Stewe hated being put in the spot, especially by someone like his boss. ‘It’s…’ he looked away; the intensity of the other’s gaze proving to be too much.
Crimson didn’t hide the disappointment. ‘What’s the problem, Humph? Classic case I’d say. PVC. No hope of recovery, leaving aside the huge cost to the hospital…’
The senior man waved a hand dismissively. ‘Minimal. You’ve seen the stats. You’ve applied the protocol, yes?’
Humphrey nodded unhappily. The famed algorithm developed by Atak and others. Genius, people called it, its accuracy within disappearing fractions.
Crimson continued, his right foot tapping arrhythmically, a sure sign of his building irritation. ‘Her signs are within standard deviations and the parameters allow, with two certifications…’ he paused, his brows beetling, ‘… we can begin, the harvesting.’
All Humphrey could do was nod. He felt rather than saw the nurse busy herself, feigning disinterest. She’s listening to every word, he thought. I wonder if she knows, too; does she feel it? He watched the senior physician meander between beds, each one occupied by a patient, each in a coma. He couldn’t help feeling…
‘Doctor Stewe. Bed six…’
Humphrey dragged himself back to the present, fingered his stethoscope nervously and hurried. The senior nurse looked up, clearly perplexed. ‘I don’t understand, Doctor?’
‘What’s up?’ Humphrey tried to sound more confident than he felt.
‘She’s waking up?’
‘Sorry?’ Humphrey’s eyes darted from the nurse to the patient and back. The figure in the bed, a forty something victim of an unprovoked assault seemed inert to him.
‘He’s showing signs of regaining consciousness. But Doctor Atak…’ she hesitated.
‘He told us to prep him for harvesting. The relatives have certified…’
Humphrey swallowed. He didn’t want to be the one to tell Atak. The nurse, a wise and calm woman with two decades of experience met his gaze. Neither did she, he surmised. ‘I think you’d better postpone the prepping, hadn’t you? It may be a blip.’
He wanted to smile. Yes, he thought, one of those antiquated things that weren’t meant to happen – couldn’t happen – if the algorithm was correctly applied. Instead he turned away. ‘I’ll be with Mrs Pelligonium.’
Humphrey Stewe was a rational man with methodical if ponderous thought processes. He’d no more believe in the supernatural as he would put his underpants on his head. Mrs Pelligonium had been the opposite: a mystic and medium who seemed to him to be the kind of exotic creature that only appeared in books. Yet, the stream of visitors attested to how she had changed their lives with her extraordinary insights and spectacular predictions.
He sat, glancing around the ward. The patients were testament to the multiethnic, multicultural environment they inhabited, yet each patient had two things in common: a condition that the latest science predicted would deteriorate rapidly and a donor status that, on death, meant their organs could be used – ‘harvested’ as it was glibly and ghoulishly called – for either saving other lives or necessary or desirable research. Since Humphrey had joined the team he had been stunned at the speed with which patients moved through the necessary stages to the end, yet none queried it.
In truth Humphrey, until the arrival of Mrs Pelligonium hadn’t given the arrangements much thought. Now, as he sat alongside the inert woman, other thoughts and ideas intruded. He became increasingly certain there was greater consciousness in those patients than the machines and the application of the approved processes showed.
‘What do you think?’ He no longer thought it odd to have these internal conversations with his patient.
‘I told you I’d sort it out. It ends here.’
He looked at her face. Still, peaceful and, apparently comatose. Had anyone else heard her? That nurse, maybe?
‘No, no one else has your abilities, Doctor. They’ve shut their minds. Watch…’
Humphrey looked up, just in time to see a junior nurse lurch back and scream as the patient in bed six, began to sit. He pulled out the IV drip and turned his head slowly to stare at Humphrey. There was something not entirely right about it.
‘He’s not yet fully awake. You must protect him until he is. They will try and eviscerate his corporeal form but you must stop them.’
Humphrey couldn’t move; he felt rooted to the spot. Other nurses and another junior doctor had appeared and were trying to ease the patient back into the bed, trying to make him lie down.
‘Humphrey, you said you wanted to help,’ the voice, soothing yet demanding filled his head.
He nodded and stood. As he moved down the ward, taking his time, he heard more voices from the patients he passed, some angry, others confused but all of them determined…
The doors to the lobby banged open and Doctor Atak paused, framed by the low light from the corridor.
At the moment Humphrey saw him, the voices stopped. He had the clear impression that each of the patients were staring at the doctor even though none of them moved. Humphrey shivered as he became aware of a sensation apparently emanating from the patients. Unbridled hate towards Atak, mixed with a determination for revenge.
Humphrey stood in front of the patient in bed six. It was the eyes, wide open yet empty. Then the man smiled and Humphrey knew. This man was no longer a body to be reaped; he was a weapon, and that sweet old lady held the trigger.
Written in response to this month’s #blogbattle prompt, the word ‘exotic’