“Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix.” --Christina Baldwin
“Daniel…Daniel, can you hear me? Daniel.” The woman’s voice was soft, almost song-like in her melodic tone. I welcomed the opportunity to once again open my eyes. “There you are Daniel, I was wondering if you would ever wake up.”
“Huh, what?” I was still feeling incredibly dopey but in no pain. “Where am I?”
“It’s alright, Daniel, you’re feeling groggy from the pain medication. You’re quite the fighter I hear, refusing anything we offered to help.”
It was then that I realized where I was. I was in a hospital, surrounded by the very people we entrusted to help us. Kind faces of men and women who swore to save lives over respecting personal decisions, at any cost.
“What happened?” I asked, trying now to sit up. “I don’t remember.”
“You were in an accident, Daniel. Your right ankle was crushed. We’ve had to reconstruct portions of both your Tibia and Fibula bones as well as replace the Talus.”
“Why does my neck hurt?” noticing the bandages when I reached to show her the location of pain.
“The window shattered into your neck. When they brought you here, there was a huge hunk of glass imbedded in your neck, lacerating your jugular vein. We had to do immediate surgery in order to keep you from bleeding out. You, Mr. Daniel Peckerstan, are a very fortunate man.” She helped me with the pillows on my bed and offered me another for my head after raising the bed to a more comfortable position.
“Was anyone else brought in from that accident?” I was not sure I wanted to hear the reply.
“No, no one else was admitted. Do you know who was with you?”
I wanted to truthfully answer her question, to tell her that my beautiful Celeste was with me, and I almost did. I felt a momentary sense of panic creep up on me at the thought of her injured and alone in her effort to stick with her plans. The plan. The agenda is what changed my mind.
“No, I was hitchhiking and some guy picked me up.”
“So it was another man in the car?” Sounding surprised. “I was under the impression it was a woman who was driving. Do you remember his name? We’ve had a few unknowns come in since your accident with some interesting injuries.”
“No, I’m sorry…I never asked for his name,” wondering how she knew it was a woman. “What made you think it was a woman?”
“Witnesses.” She never bothered to elaborate.
“Well, he had long hair, I think he was in a band or something,” I stated, trying my best to keep Celeste’s identity confidential. I had figured at this point, if she wasn’t here, injured and treated, then she was still in a position to carry out her mission. I resigned completely back into my pillows, feeling a sense of sadness that was unfamiliar to me, feeling the despair of my situation taking hold of me.
“So who’s Celeste then?” catching me completely by surprise.
“Celeste? How do you know that name?” forcing an air of ignorance, hoping the doctor would find me believable.
“Please, Mr. Peckerstan, I’m a doctor because I’m smart,” not hiding her sarcasm in any way.
“She was my girlfriend before the shit hit the fan,” I looked away from her. “I hadn’t thought of her in some time, it just surprised me to hear you speak her name, that’s all.” I tried desperately to keep my answers as vague as possible.
“Fair enough. I’ll have the nurse bring in something for you to eat.” She took another quick glance at my chart before exiting the room. “Oh, there are some soldiers here to speak with you. I’ll send them right in.”
I laid helpless in my bed, absorbed in my thoughts and lost in confusion as to what had happened. I looked to my left and saw an unconscious black man with many tubes entering his body. To my right, I saw an older gentleman, Asian I believe, who looked at me but never spoke a word. He jumped ever so nervously every time the black man twitched or made a noise. I thought about Celeste and what she could be experiencing. Was it hard for her to leave me there, I wondered? Was she injured and uncared for? Had she been caught before she could escape? So many questions with no hope, no sign of answers anywhere in sight. Deep into my worry and fear, I never noticed the two officers enter the room.
“Mr. Peckerstan, we have some questions for you and would appreciate your full cooperation.” The gentleman who spoke stood tall and erect. His dark uniform was decorated with stripes and medals symbolizing different accomplishments in his obviously lengthy military career. He looked to be in his late 40’s, maybe early 50’s, with short salt and pepper hair and clean shaven face. I hated him instantly. The other man, a younger fellow, didn’t share the stern expression that only experience could carve. He stood silent and equally erect by the door.
“I’ll get to the point. We found guns in your vehicle. Where did they come from?” Spoken with a tone of arrogance that told me he already knew the answer.
“I don’t know.” Not bothering to elaborate.
“Your fingerprints are on them.” The soldier never once relaxed his stance or relieved the tone of suspicion in his voice. He stood over me, staring me down, reading every motion my expression and eyes would offer him.
“He was showing them to me. I’d never held a gun before,” meeting his stare with my own expressionless eyes. I made sure to keep my hands on my lap, palms down, fingers lax. I concentrated very hard on my breathing, making sure to keep my breaths consistent.
“HE? Do you have a name for me?” He knew it didn’t matter, that I would’ve fabricated a name if I had to.
“I don’t know. Introductions were never made.”
“So why were you in the vehicle?”
“Wherever there wasn’t a racial battle taking place.”
The soldier then walked to the chair between my bed and the Asian’s, pulled it closer to me and sat down. He leaned back, relaxed and crossed his arms in front of him, remaining silent long enough for the uncomfortable doubt to creep into me, demanding even more of my attention to my breathing and body language. It seemed like an hour before he spoke again, a tactic used in interrogations that I’d learned about a few years ago. He was hoping for a sign or gesture of guilt; hoping his stares and silence would make me feel so uncomfortable I’d slip up. But I didn’t. I sat beside him, equally prepared for his tactics, armed with knowledge and a degree of self-discipline that surprised even myself.
“Do you know this woman?” he asked as he reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a 3x5 photo of Celeste.
I carefully and casually held her photo in my hand, looking it over before answering an adamant “No,” making sure his eyes remained locked on mine when I responded.
“You’re very coy, aren’t you, Mr. Peckerstan? If that is your real name. You’re very careful not to volunteer any information. What intrigues me the most is your lack of curiosity. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?” He tried his best to be discreet in changing his tactics.
“You want information I can’t provide. Not because I’m unwilling, but because I honestly don’t know.”
“Well then, allow me to share with you what I DO know,” looking at me again with such scrutiny, hoping to see any indication of nervousness on my part. “I know this woman was in the car. Her fingerprints were found on the guns along with yours. I know these guns were registered to two soldiers that were killed on I-80. I know that you were not in our system of information, well…” falling back into his seat, “not until now.” I couldn’t help my reaction at this time. What he was telling me was validation of my biggest fear. I had been implanted with the RFID chip.
“You fought my men off quite vigilantly at the scene of the accident. I couldn’t understand why until we brought you hear and tried to recover your medical history. That’s when we discovered you weren’t, shall we say, current on our most advanced technology.” He Smiled in a manner that instantly enraged me. I couldn’t help but breathe deeper and quicker. I was fighting against all hope to keep my self-control.
“I told you,” sounding as nervous as I felt, “HE picked me up about four miles before we got into the city. I don’t recall any soldiers nor do I recall this woman,” I responded, handing back the picture.
“Hmm. You do realize that I can bring in those two soldiers to identify you, right?” He leaned closer to me. All I could do was shake my head.
“I thought you said they were dead?” I tried my best to fight off the feeling of despair and guilt that washed through me like a violent storm.
“The two soldiers that let you into our fine city,” still harboring the sense of superiority he knew he had over me.
“Go ahead.” I looked down with a complete understanding of failure. I had failed Celeste, I had failed myself, and most important, I had failed the cause.
“Well then, you can expect my return in about an hour.” With that said, I watched him rise from his seat and with a simple gesture of his hand, invitedhis partner to join him in leaving my room just as a nurse was entering.
“Mr. Peckerstan, how are you feeling?” she asked, looking around the room, carefully observing the condition of my roommates. She leaned in to adjust my pillow and bed, when she whispered into my ear, “I remember you from the camp. Celeste sent me to help.” She stood back up, “Do you need to use the restroom?”
“Yes, please.” The nurse then opened a closet door and grabbed a crutch before joining me at the side at the bed and helping me up.
“Lean on me, and we’ll get you to the bathroom,” making sure to speak in a tone above normal before whispering, “What can I do to help you?”
“I’m embarrassed to ask but would you help me into the bathroom, I’m still dizzy and...”
“Of course, Mr. Peckerstan.” She allowed me to lean on her until we were inside the private stall, then helped me sit down on the toilet. “Not exactly the throne you’d hope for but at least here we have some privacy.”
“Thank you. So Celeste is ok then?”
“Yes, she’s fine. She knew they’d send you here and commissioned me to help out since I’m already a nurse.”
“Great.” I felt relieved again that my situation wasn’t as dire as I’d thought. “That soldier is coming back with two of his men. Men who can identify Celeste as the driver. Please, can you help me out of here?”
“Well, there’s a guard at your door and that’s the only way out. Let me talk to someone and I’ll get back to you in 15 minutes.”
“Thank you,” We stood there looking at each other, another moment of uncomfortable silence, especially when I realized I really did need to urinate. “Um, I really do have to go.”
“Yes, I know, let’s get you back in bed.”
“No, I mean…I have to pee.” I still couldn’t help but feel slightly embarrassed at my announcement.
“OH, oh my gosh, I’m sorry…ring the alarm if you need me.” And with that said she left me alone.
I stood before the mirror, wondering how bad my neck had taken the hit, if the glass had left some hideous scar. I slowly removed the tape that held the bandages on my wound and gasped when I saw the ugly black stitches that monopolized the entire right side of my neck. At first glance, someone would think I was partially decapitated. Blood still oozed in small droplets from my stitches, resulting in convulsions of my stomach trying to vomit its contents. I had no contents to spew, but it didn’t stop my body trying.
When she returned not five minutes later, I was still in the restroom, wiping the drool that escaped my lips. She didn’t bother knocking; she simply entered the room and told me to take some kind of pill. I remember asking her what it was after I’d already swallowed it, and before I could hear her reply I had the most incredibly intense pain in my chest. A pain that brought me to my knees and restricted my breathing. The last thing I remembered was a numbing ache in my right arm before collapsing to the floor in yet another state of unconsciousness. Such a trusting soul I was.