February 21st 2014
Out in the field, Yadav never woke up in the same place twice, but decades had passed since she’d last opened her eyes after a long sleep and felt disoriented. However, when she regained consciousness in the governor’s med bay, she slipped into a rare moment of pure panic.
She’d never been this far out of her depth before. Information was her trade and her ally. She never entered a situation without knowing what kind of conflicts she might face. Insurgent camps, syndicate strongholds, warlords’ compounds — she’d spent years of her life surrounded by criminals and pirates with no easy means of escape, and she’d always felt safer than she did right now.
Her ship’s databases hadn’t even been sure this planet was inhabitable — let alone inhabited. Research was impossible. They’d gone in blind. She knew nothing about the customs, traditions, or what might be a simple gaffe versus a deadly mistake.
Information was the only thing that kept a reporter safe. And here she had none.
The recovery room lay quiet. No ambient music, no bustle out in the hall. A doorless toilet sat in one corner, next to a small window that let in a stream of bright light. How long had she been under? Someone had left a plate covered with foiled paper on a nearby nightstand. Hers was the only bed.
Where was Haddix?
Testing her elbow, she found it functional, though it still had a bit of a twinge. That was odd. The bones should have been re-fused well enough to erase all signs of injury. She touched her temple — at least the gouge was completely gone.
She’d been dressed in a pale blue smock, and a thin robe had been laid by the bedside. They’d scrubbed her skin so clean that she smelled fresh as an infant. A few of her fingers had wireless monitor caps attached, and a simple saline IV trailed from her forearm.
Everything she deemed unnecessary proved easy to remove.
After throwing on the robe, she tiptoed, barefooted, to the door. All was quiet — not like in a regular hospital.
She tried the doorknob. Locked.
Yadav jumped back as a voice addressed her from the other side. “Madame?”
“Please step away from the door and get back in bed.” It was Sato, the man who had held an Arclight to her head. “The doctor will be with you soon.”
“Can you tell me where my colleague is? There was a man who came in with me.”
Silence. For a moment, she wondered if he had walked away.
Then there came an uncomfortable cough. “I’m not at liberty to say.”
Yadav stumbled back. She knew what that meant. Good news was never confidential. But ‘bad news’ could comprise a million different possibilities. Her mind jumped to an extreme: “How could he have died?” Her voice rose several decibels. Though she’d made a leap in logic, her instincts told her it was true. “Haddix was alive when we got here. If he made it into surgery there’s no way his wounds would have led to a permakill. Not in these facilities.”
Unless they let him die.
She’d had run-ins (and interviews) with AntiLaz killers. There were ways of making sure that when you assassinated someone, they stayed dead. Shooting down an ejection pod, high-temp disintegration and bone grinding. But the easiest method, by far, was just to make sure they never received the proper resuscitation. Deny them medical treatment. Let the body lie.
“You’re kidding me, right?” She lunged at the door, yanking hard on the handle. “Let me see him. Now.”
“Ma’am, please get back in bed. The doctor will be here shortly.”
She walked backwards until she hit the bed, and sat down heavily. How can he be gone? she thought. He was right here, in a hospital. Why is he gone?
Uncontrollable tremors took over her limbs. She clasped her hands in her lap to steady herself. Whether she was shaking from anger or shock, she couldn’t say. Colleagues had been injured in the field under her watch before. But this was the first death.
He’d wanted to turn back. Not because he was afraid, but because he was a professional. He knew the odds of anything resembling a good outcome were low. He knew that if they infiltrated that asteroid belt that he might never see —
His kids. He had two daughters. And a wife. Yadav had met them once, at a company affair a long time ago. Beyond that, she didn’t know much about Haddix. She didn’t socialize while on the job, preferring to stay focused, in pure business mode. It kept things clean. Everyone knew where they stood and what their task was without personal matters getting in the way. She liked it. It was an efficient way to work. But it also meant she never got to know her colleagues.
This was supposed to be a simple fraud case. Clean. Low-risk.
Yadav wanted to scream, and pound on the door, and throw things. But this was no time for self-reproach.
If they’d let Haddix die, she had to get out of here.
Her flight suit was nowhere in the room. None of her effects were there, broken or otherwise. No MobiGlas, no camera drones, no travel kit. Her fingers flew to her ear. Thankfully they hadn’t extracted her recorder. It was cybernetically attached, but the individual recording device could be changed out.
Quickly, she examined the window. Fully sealed. The duct work was minimal, maybe big enough for a cat to crawl through, but certainly not a mature woman. The only way in or out was through the door, and it had at least one guard.
She could wait for the doctor to arrive and rush the gap when she entered. But this was a government facility, surely crawling with personnel. The chances that Yadav would be able to get anywhere near the front door without someone stopping her were slim to none.
Maybe there was a way to get the guard to help her. Not bribery, something more subtle. How could she convince him to let her out? She couldn’t fake choking or convulsing or anything medical, obviously.
What would make him escort her from the room? From the building?
If she could reach some bare wiring …
The monitoring caps she’d had on her fingers must have sent her data elsewhere in the med bay, as there weren’t any screens or machines. Nothing with easily exposable wiring. And all of the light fixtures were too high for her to reach, even if she stood on the bed. But there were several electrical outlets in the room, all with safety plates guarding them. She needed a tool — something to pry with.
She scooped up the IV needle, but immediately realized it wouldn’t have enough tensile strength to pull up the plates.
The hooks that supported the IV bag were too thick, as was the bolt that controlled the stand’s height.
Perhaps there was some part of the bed she could use. She dug under the mattress and found a wireless remote — ah ha! It was an electric bed. If she needed to she could root around until she found the motor, but she suspected the batteries in the remote would do the job. She’d started many fires in her day — usually for survival out in the desert, or the jungle. Remote, inhospitable places. All in the name of tracking down a lead. It took three volts to start a fire.
Dismantling the remote was a swift job. Now she just needed something combustible. The waste basket was empty, of course, so she wadded up the blue hospital gown and tossed it in.
Now, how to form a circuit and cause a spark? Again she looked to the needle, but didn’t think she could bend it properly. She picked up the plate that had been left for her. Beneath the foiled paper was a pile of couscous. The covering was the same consistency as a gum wrapper — perfect. She rolled it into a thin strip, then ripped the center a bit — not all the way through. The foiled top would conduct the electricity, and the paper would ignite.
After cinching the robe tight around her waist, she squatted over the basket. It took her several false starts, but eventually a spark took hold, smoldering before evolving into a full flame.
The small curl of smoke it generated was laughable at best. Yadav hoisted the basket above her head, hoping to tease the detectors into going off. No dice. She needed a bigger, better flame.
The only thing left to burn was the mattress.
She shook the contents of the waste basket onto the hospital bed. For a moment she feared she’d smothered what little fire she had, but soon there was a faint whomp, and a strong stench of burning synthetic fabric.
Puffs of light gray smoke billowed from beneath the crumpled gown, followed by lapping orange flames. Small, black clouds amassed near the ceiling.
Yadav waited. And waited. The smoke stung her nose and tickled her throat. After another thirty seconds she could feel it in her lungs. She covered her face with the sleeve of her robe.
Sirens should have wailed, flame retardant should have burst from hidden compartments in the walls and ceiling. But nothing happened.
“Help,” she yelled, running to the door. She slapped her open palm against the metal. She noticed the seal around the door was tight — a measure meant to reduce the spread of air-born infection. “There’s a fire, let me out.” She sneezed. “The smoke — ”
“Ma’am, no offense, but this isn’t my first day on the job.”
She couldn’t believe the fire system was malfunctioning. This had to be some kind of cosmic joke. She’d been held at gunpoint by mentally ill prisoners off their anti-psychotics. She’d been trapped in the New United headquarters with a bomb less than five minutes from detonation. But this was how she was going to die?