Beth had her much contested after school detention – which we eventually worked out was for swearing at the Principal. The injustice…
I was left with some time to waste. Something I was familiar with. Getting some homework done in the computer lab was almost nostalgic. The only caveat was I had to deftly evade Mz Gregory’s interrogation. I’m in no way deft, if that’s even a word, but I managed to avoid answering most.
I’d just about finished wrapping up my work when Beth came burst through the door, red faced and out of breath.
“Alex!” She put her hands on her knees and panted, trying to catch enough breath to carry on speaking. I was out of my chair and trying to imagine what was wrong. She looked ok, has she seen someone? Visions of shady figures waiting at the school gates plagued my mind. Maybe it was Haley? Maybe she stayed back…
“What?” I asked, infuriated at having to wait for her to explain.
“It’s… Thursday…” Something was supposed to happen on Thursday? I let myself relax a little bit. Warning of some kind of imminent attack wasn’t usually preceded by announcing the day of the week. Mz Gregory was looking up from her desk, bemused.
“What Beth? What about Thursday?” I said, trying to coax whatever it was from her a fraction faster. God she must be really unfit.
“Medical.” She managed.
Shit! I had that panic of forgetting something. Rather the panic when blissful ignorance of forgetting something is shattered by a cruel reminder. Or someone telling you… “Where is it? When? How much time do we have?”
“San-Donat. An hour.” Her breathing was less laboured. I had no idea where that was, it wasn’t in the city as far as I knew. I scanned the room. I had no idea why I was just panicked. My instinct was to look for something that might help, like I was going to find a teleporter or something no one had noticed. “I’m sorry Alex, I forgot that mom was supposed to take you.”
I threw myself back into my seat. That was ruined then. The panic drained out of me, replaced by the dull throb of resignation.
Beth looked just like I felt. She flopped into the seat next to me.
“This is her fault,” she said, “Why does she insist on messing up my life?”
“We were the ones that forgot, I could have got there another way. The underground or something.” I said. I hated the underground, and almost never used it. It cost money. But was the fastest way of getting from one place to another.
“The underground doesn’t go that far out of town Alex.” She said, making me feel stupid.
There was a moments silence while we both stewed in self-pity. Or maybe me-pity.
“I could take you.” Mz Gregory said, from behind her desk. We both simultaneously swivelled in our seats to look at her. “I mean, It wouldn’t be much trouble and I hate to see you in such a position…”
“You would? That’s wonderful!” Without warning Beth threw her arms around my neck and pulled me towards her. I squeaked and my head went all blank for a while.
* * *
“What are you going to anyway?” Mz said, pulling out of the car park. “You mentioned a medical?”
“Yeah. For the Cadets.” I said. I didn’t really know much else. Just that I had to do this to be a pilot at some point in my future.
“It better be important, you skipped out of detention Beth. I’ll get a lot of stick for not taking you back.” I saw her glance in the mirror at us. “Best not mention you saw me eh?”
“Thanks Jane!” Beth said, delighted.
I got more nervous as we travelled. How was I going to explain my fingers? My arm? Would it stop me from passing? Maybe we should have tried to get another day, after I’d recovered…
Then I noticed the landscape out of the window. I couldn’t remember ever leaving the city. I mean, I knew there were forests, mountains, but I’d never seen them. They were huge! Photos, movies, they didn’t seem to manage to capture how big everything was… I had my nose pressed so close to the window my breath kept steaming it up. I had to keep wiping it with my sleeve.
“Have you seen this?” I said to Beth and Mz Gregory, surprised they weren’t just staring along with me.
“What?” Beth replied.
“This!” I gestured out of the window without looking away. I was trying to absorb everything. It was amazing.
“Trees? You’ve never seen trees before?” She sounded bemused.
“Not so many! Only, like in the park and stuff.” Everything looked so wild. Parts of the city seemed wild to me, but this place was… proper nature and stuff.
They just laughed at me, which was mean. I was distracted though. “It’s hardly unpopulated Alex… There are houses everywhere.”
It struck me how cramped the Island was, let alone the city itself. Out here there was so much space.
We arrived to what didn’t really look like a military facility, not what I imagined one to look like anyway. The outside said it was a ‘The Shaw Military Hospital’, so I guess it made sense it wouldn’t look like what I imagined.
Mz Gregory Parked up and we walked inside. There wasn’t even a guard. I was expecting a guard, with a gun. I guess you didn’t need to guard broken soldiers.
Beth skipped up to the front desk and spoke to the secretary. I assumed she’d made the appointment, or her dad had.
We were told to wait in the lobby area until we were called. My nerves were slowly building. I wasn’t used to places like this. Clean, clinical. Expensive. I felt out of place, like someone was going to come up to me and politely ask me to leave, ‘how did you get in?’ This kind of place wasn’t for people like me.
But the only people who came were asking for me to come further in. Deeper.
“Alexis Loch?” Was called out. We stood up, and I stepped forwards. “Your mom can wait here.”
“Oh, no. I’m not her mother.” Mz Gregory said, hurried. “Just… a family friend.”
I fell into step behind the man, dressed in a blue uniform – utilitarian and simple cut. Maybe a nurse? I could manage nurses. Doctors scared me.
“You’re about ten minutes late but we managed to move the appointment.” He said.
“Sorry.” I kept my eyes on the tiled floor, all too aware of the contrast against my battered trainers.
“First thing to do is the fitness test, here.” He opened a door for me.
I slipped past, uncomfortably close, into a room with a treadmill. We had some treadmills in the gym at school. This one was much the same except it was surrounded by monitors, wires and tubes. Intimidating.
“Have you brought anything to change into?” He asked.
“No, is this not ok?” I always went running in normal clothes. Cargo pants and t-shirt. Jacket if I was feeling cold.
“It’s fine, some people just like to get change that’s all.” He walked around and started flicking switches and pulling at wires.
“I just need to attach these. Could you lift your shirt?” I aproached and lifted my top up to my ribs, careful not to lift it too high. I was conscious that I wasn’t wearing anything underneath. He put a little gel on the plastic suckers and pressed them, cold, to my body. He moved around to my back and repeated the process.
“And I just need to put these on your chest.” Eek. Luckily my clothes were kind of baggy, and he only needed to put them on near my neck line so we managed just pulling it down. He took a lot of care not to look at me directly, even just my exposed midriff.
“Right, please step up onto here.” He gestured towards the rubberized belt of the treadmill. My heart fluttered in anticipation. I hoped I’d be good enough. A monstrosity of a mask was presented to me, it looked like a gas-mask or breathing apparatus. I pulled the elasticated straps over the back of my head and pressed my face into it. Far too big. But he checked the seal and it all seemed ok. I experimentally swung my head side to side, it felt strange. The heavy tubes coming out of the front swung. Your face had far too much momentum, too much weight.
“Right, I’ll start off at a walking pace. You just need to keep up. If you have any problems and need to stop, you can tell me or press this red button here.” He walked behind some of the monitors so I couldn’t see him, probably purposeful.
Right. This should be easy.
With a jolt the system hummed and the belt started moving. Slowly. It wasn’t even a brisk walk.
And it was easy.