I think I’d had a nightmare about this machine. It must have been formed from a half memory.
“Looks like you’ve been through a lot.” John said to me while he powered it up. I thought these things would be running twenty four-seven. I guess the hospital was over-sized and over-equipped in case of emergency, a time when it would really be needed. It was run by the military.
I nodded, I could hardly deny it.
“You’ve got more wounds that I’ve seen on some of the soldiers we get through here.” I don’t know whether he sounded impressed or miserable.
I shrugged, it wasn’t that bad. Besides, there hadn’t been a real war in years. What injuries would he actually see?
The scanner was surprisingly anti-climactic, after all I’d built it up in my head. I lay on a bed and a grey complex loop of steel, wires and sensors passed over me twice to a symphony of servos and the hum of electronic motors. It repeated the process. That was it.
* * *
“Well, that’s a bullet all right,” the doctor said. I wasn’t even responding to them now. I was just sitting there, dejected, defeated. “And look at those rib fractures, see – those are recent must have been caused by the impact. But look at those ones, they’re old. A year maybe. And there, three fractured fingers but the wrist’s gone at least twice. The little finger a few times.”
I had no memory of ever breaking my little finger. I wasn’t so sure about my wrists… There was that one time when Haley knocked me and I fell badly.
“Look at the left fibula, see that bulge – that looks like it’s healed what, twenty years ago? And there on the radius, similar maybe older. It doesn’t make any sense, she’s fourteen. The growth… Oh and those hairline marks. look they are all over her legs but they must have been from when she was a child.”
When I was younger it was harder to tell what’s just normal or not. I had vague memories of pain… but then I’d always had some kind of pain or another. When I was really little food was a big problem. Sure people liked to give cute children odds and ends but I wasn’t getting school dinners till I was 7 or so and couldn’t really do odd-jobs to earn a bit of cash. To my shame, I often ended up stealing.
“They can’t be due to trauma though… Not with that pattern, it looks like a stress fracture,” John pointed out, helpfully.
“No… There must be something else, it’s not normal.” She stared thoughtfully at the wall-mounted display. “Not normal at all. Do you suffer from lots of fractures? When you were younger?”
Realising the question was directed at me, I shook my head and tried to string my thoughts back together and form an answer. “I’m not sure. Maybe, I didn’t really know what it was when I was little though.” How was I supposed to know what a bone fracture was when I was five?
“How can you not be sure? You don’t remember breaking your leg?” From what you said it happened before I was born you stupid woman. “You shouldn’t have been able to walk! Are you sure you didn’t get taken to hospital?”
“I’ve not been to a hospital in my life… I’d remember.” I sighed. “I suppose can recall my legs hurting and stuff… But I was only a kid. I didn’t know what it meant.”
“I need to make a call. Or two. Do you mind if I have a chat with my colleague? In private?” She said.
I stood, I knew what that meant. I felt a bit numb.
My whole future, the life I’d had planned out – loosely at least – had just been dashed on the rocks. Unless I could earn a couple of million to privately fund training, but even then there were probably strict medical requirements to get qualified. They wouldn’t want anyone who was a risk operating that kind of equipment.
I shuffled into the corridor and leaned against the wall, letting them ‘chat’ all they wanted. I already knew the outcome.
How would I tell Beth? She’d put so much into getting me on the Cadets, she’d be devastated.
A thought flashed through my mind. I’d have to watch her play out the life I’d wanted. It would be agony, listening to her talk about it, seeing her go out and get paid real money to get trained to do what I wanted to be doing.
And what was in my future now? Everyone from my neighbourhood… Well, half of them were addicts and the other half were feeding the addicts.
What was the point in trying at all?
Their chat lasted at least ten minutes. Eventually I was called back in.
“Please sit down…”
* * *
So. That was it.
I wasn’t going go into space. Ever. You’d have to pass medical to get into fleet space program, to get onto any of the frontier expeditions or settlement crews. Anything.
I was stuck here… This place. A world filled with shit. A population that is unsustainable, suffocating a planet.
What the fuck was wrong with my bones?
I walked in silence back to Beth. How could I tell her? That I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t go to the Cadet meets at weekends. That I couldn’t join the service with her. That I was a failure before I’d even got started.
She jumped from of her seat as I entered the waiting room. Her expression filled with hope and joy was quickly dashed. Her brows drew sharply into a frown. I hated myself all the more for seeing it. I want to make her happy. Doing the opposite felt like tearing my own teeth out.
I walked to them and sat down heavily, looking at the floor. I didn’t want to meet their eyes.
“Why?” Beth said, exasperated.
“It… a bone condition, they think it’s some form of congenital osteoporosis.” I sighed. “They have no idea really, all they know is they aren’t right. They wouldn’t let me join and definitely wouldn’t let me into space.”
“But… Oh.” Beth stopped looking outraged and started looking concerned. “Are you ok? Do you need treatment or something?”
“Probably not, maybe calcium supplements. They want to do loads of tests on me. Apparently my muscles are abnormal too.” I’m very interesting, apparently.
“But you’re like freaky strong,” Beth said. I raised an eyebrow at that.
“Yeah, not abnormal in a bad way.” I replied. “Muscles good, bones bad.”
“Well, that should so even out!” She was on her feet, pacing.
“Micro- gravity is bad enough for normal bone Beth. Besides they have plenty of perfectly healthy people to pick from.” I gestured at herself. “They don’t need to take a risk with me.”
“Come-on girls, it’s getting late.” Mz Gregory said. She sounded unhappy, but she hadn’t acted surprised. But then… She’d been there the last time I’d gotten a scan.
“You knew?” I asked.
“I had suspicions, Jack came to a similar conclusion. To be honest, I hoped they’d overlook it. You didn’t mention they were going to do a full body scan.”
“Yeah. They weren’t planning to but they wanted to have a look at my fingers and stuff. Hey if I hadn’t broken them I’d probably have passed…”
“They would have done a scan before you went into training though, it would just have delayed the inevitable… It would have been worse.” Mz said, logic and reason once again dashing any hope or even fantasy of having passed. It was probably for the best.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” It hurt, that she’d known I’d likely fail, that I would fall at the first hurdle. I was torn between a feeling of betrayal and what I knew of her – she wasn’t the kind of person to treat someone badly for any reason.
“I… I just hoped…” She looked at me. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I should have, it wasn’t the right thing to do in the long run I’m sorry.”
Well, I couldn’t be mad at her. She’d done nothing but look after me. I was with the two people who cared about me the most, and neither of them had any reason to. They had nothing to gain but they looked out for me.
My eyes were wet, I turned away to hide it. I didn’t want them thinking I was weak.