Chapter 4

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The room was small, but private. Hospital white with a generic floral painting on the wall, a screen at the foot of the bed and one small window looking out onto a concrete wall. But he had his own bathroom, and that was a blessing. He missed his Phab, and its absence only served to remind him of how deep a hole he was in. But its contents were logged as evidence, so he wasn't likely to see it anytime soon. Or ever again. Along with everything else he owned.

There was a guard standing outside his door.

His visitors were predictable, usually visiting at the same time each day. A nurse would wake him just after seven in the morning to take his readings. Dr. Lee would appear around lunchtime to check up on him, see if there was anything he needed. Why she hadn't farmed that responsibility off on one of her residents he couldn't tell. The prosecutor's office would drop by around mid-afternoon, with his mother or one of her juniors in tow. He dreaded those meetings, since he never actually said anything. The investigators would ask their questions. Before he could answer there'd be an objection. Then the conversation would descend into some form of unintelligible legal wrangling, the promise of motions to strike, followed by various hasty departures. Why they even bothered was beyond him.

He watched the news. The hearings were closed, but he knew his mother. Knew when she was winning by the subtle, minuscule changes in how she carried herself, her choice of words. Guaranteed she was ripping a long, ragged strip off the opposition, a fact all but confirmed by the way the lead prosecutor fidgeted every time there was a press conference. His initial prediction of a quick trial and conviction must be haunting him now. Earlier in the day he'd vowed to fight what promised to be protracted proceedings, was still calling it a case with only one possible outcome: conviction by judge and jury. Now he was saying it was too early to tell one way or the other. His options seemed to be dwindling.

Mitch didn't like to hope. Didn't like to think about anything even remotely linked to the reason he was still in the hospital. Best to bury those blurry memories of half remembered faces and skin crawling agony.

In the evening, someone from the family would come by to see him and make sure he was eating. He'd lost weight, although he wasn't sure whether that was the result of being sick or the food. Dr. Lee kept telling him he'd start putting on weight once the phages ran their course and his temperature came down. Until then, he was stuck being sweaty, tired and weak with a stomach that cramped up every time he swallowed something, guts that ached for hours afterwards, and strange, random twinges in his chest and back. Like hot pokers.

This forced inactivity was making him crazy, even though he still felt like shit. Never realized how much he depended on his Phab before. How much he missed his network connection.

As for his parents, their first visit had been while he was still unconscious and buried under a maze of support tubes and sensors. The next time they came he'd emerged more or less from the cocoon, although his skin was unnaturally pale and he had circles from hell under his eyes. Looked like a bleached corpse from one of those do it yourself horror flicks.

First thing his mother did was call him an idiot. Demanded to know what that addled brain of his had been thinking. When he didn't answer, she'd asked how he was feeling. His father talked about the ocean, but then he always did. His life. This time it was oddly comforting. The new project in the Indian Ocean, the next phase in the arctic, all coming along nicely. As they were leaving his father remembered to give him a new copy of his favorite book, and his mother reminded him not to speak to anyone without consulting her first.

Ever.

That was a couple of days ago.

A quick glance at the clock confirmed it was about time for an update; the court session should be over. A quick search got him what he wanted, today's sound bites; his mother's face prominently displayed, even when she wasn't the one talking.

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